Oct. 28, 2011
By Miquel Jacobs
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The record-setting streak continued for the South Carolina women's soccer team as they defeated five-time defending champions Florida, 2-1, Friday night to win the first outright SEC overall and eastern division title in Gamecock history.
Kayla Grimsley and Danielle Au scored goals in the opening 22 minutes to lead the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks (15-5-0, 9-2-0 SEC) to their first ever victory in Gainesville at No. 18 Florida (14-6-0, 7-4-0 SEC). It was just the fifth conference loss ever for Florida in Gainesville, and it came in back-to-back fashion after the Gators fell 1-0 to LSU in their last outing.
The race for the SEC regular season title has come down to the match between the Gamecocks and Gators each of the last three seasons. Florida won the 2009 finale by a 3-0 margin in Gainesville, and they took a 1-0 victory in Columbia last season before Carolina broke through for the 2-1 win. South Carolina has now won a program record eight consecutive SEC games to end the season, and finished with a program-best nine SEC wins.
"We've been able to improve each year," South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. "To do what we've done the last couple of years to get this close to a regular season championship and come down to the last game and fall short, it means the world to come in here and finally accomplish that before this senior group left. It's something that's eluded them and they've come in here to do a great job tonight. I'm just proud of this program and these seniors."
A 14-year old scoring drought in Gainesville ended just 132 seconds into the match as Grimsley fought off Carolina Triglia's pressure at the top of the box to slot a ball into the far post to give Carolina the early 1-0 advantage. The goal was the first in Grimsley's career against her hometown Florida Gators and couldn't have come at a better time to give the Gamecocks their first goal in Gainesville since the Jennie Ondo scored two in the 1997 season.
"We were ready," Grimsley said. "As we've said before, we had the confidence, the teamwork and everything going into the game. We came out high intensity the first 20 minutes and put two great goals away. We gave up a little in the first half just because we came out with such high intensity. We gave up some bad mistakes and it cost us a goal, but we came out in the second half and wouldn't let them win. We didn't want to share the title, and we did what we had to do in the second half."
South Carolina doubled its lead in the 22nd minute with a goal by Danielle Au that was assisted by Christa Neary. Neary sent a service in from the right flank that Au headed up, and the ball dropped behind Florida's Taylor Burke and into the net at 21:40 to give the Gamecocks a bit of breathing room in the match.
Florida began pressing at a higher rate after going down 2-0 and strung together strong runs of possession but weren't able to get many shots off due to the Gamecock backline keeping to its reputation. The Gators would, however, cut the lead in half at 35:05 when Tahnai Annis headed in a cross by Annie Bobbitt from seven yards in front of the net.
With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Florida had the best look in the 43rd minute with a shot by Jillian Graff within 12 yards, but a Gamecock defender stuck out a foot to block the shot and keep the pressure off D'Angelo going into the half.
The opening 10 minutes of the second half saw both teams scare the other with opportunities, but only one shot was able to get off with South Carolina getting an effort on a free kick. The Gamecocks nearly made it 3-1 in the 58th minute after winning their second corner kick of the match. Andie Romness's effort found Grimsley's head and fell to Lolly Holland, but Holland's turn and shoot was saved by Burke. Ellen Fahey corralled the rebound and shot one from within four yards that was blocked by a defender before the Gators were finally able to clear the ball out of danger.
Needing a goal to tie the match, Florida pressed non-stop in the final 15 minutes but could not find a way to penetrate the SEC's top defense. Their best look came in the 83rd minute with a shot off a corner kick, but Natalie Aaron blocked the attempt and cleared the ball up the field to preserve the victory.
South Carolina travels to Orange Beach, Ala., next week to compete in the SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks will take on Alabama Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 6 p.m. (ET).
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