Aug. 1, 2012
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By Miquel Jacobs
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Twenty-eight players began the task of defending an SEC championship Wednesday with the start of preseason camp for the South Carolina women's soccer team.
Head coach Shelley Smith's squad met for the first of 20 practice sessions Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. before ending the day over 13 hours later with the conclusion of the first two-a-day of the summer. The team started with a team breakfast and training session in the morning before finishing up with summer classes later in the morning. The team gathered after lunch for media day with video board work and special sessions for content that will debut throughout the season on GamecocksOnline.com before having a team dinner and concluding with a scrimmage under the lights at Stone Stadium from 7-9 p.m.
"It was a great day," Smith said. "They worked extremely hard like you'd expect on a first day. They're out here to compete and be our best come the first game. They started off on a great foot. They came in fit and ready to go. Today we worked hard in the morning and finished off with a great intersquad scrimmage tonight. We played players in several different positions and got new looks. It was a good way to start, and we'll be learning a lot from just what we started today. The addition of our newcomers, they fit right in and do well to push the returning players. It's a great group and the team chemistry is there."
The Gamecocks will look to successfully defend their 2011 SEC regular season championship with 16 returning letterwinners, including six returning starters. It will be a new-look league in 2012 with the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri, but the Gamecocks are already poised and putting in the necessary work while in search of a sixth consecutive NCAA tournament bid.
"The team looked very well and very composed," senior captain Dani Henry said. "There are a lot of things we can work on, but that's why we have all these days left to go to work on our chemistry. I'm really excited about this fall and I'm looking forward to all of the games we have. This unit that we have is ready to play."
Joining the returners are 10 newcomers - nine freshman and a transfer from USF - in addition to a newly announced transfer in Christine Watts from Georgia Southern who will train with the team but will sit out the 2012 season under transfer rules. The newcomers performed well in both training sessions and will push for heavy playing time at every position on the field.
"It's definitely a big change in intensity level as opposed to high school or club soccer, but the team has been very encouraging," freshman Carly Ray said. "The coaches are always letting you know how you can improve, and they are always uplifting everyone. They're always pushing us, and I'm just excited for the rest of preseason and seeing where this team can go."
"Those three really stood out by their teammates over the course of the year after we finished out the fall season and went through spring season," Smith said. "They stepped up to lead the team as returning players and upperclassmen. They were voted on and our coaching staff agreed. They are a great trio combination and all have their strengths to lead this team. I think they'll be great leaders for us. Good captains are the key to success, and we definitely have that in place."
The Gamecocks return to the fields Thursday at 3 p.m. and will train every day until taking on last season's national runner-up Duke in an exhibition at Stone Stadium on Thursday, August 9 at 7 p.m. The season opener is scheduled for Friday, August 17 at UW-Milwaukee.
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