Aug. 3, 2011
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By Miquel Jacobs
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Wednesday, Aug. 3 marked the start of the 2011 women's soccer preseason as coach Shelley Smith's Gamecocks hit the fields at 7:30 a.m. to begin work on a new championships season.
The Gamecocks officially reported Tuesday for a day filled with meetings and fitness testing before beginning two-a-days Wednesday morning. The team touched on ball and technical work in addition to team chemistry.
"I see a lot of excitement," Smith said of the first day of training. "These players are ready to go. They've been working hard all summer to prepare for this, and they've come in and proven themselves to the coaching staff and teammates that they're ready to work for each other. We couldn't be more pleased at the start of a preseason to see them ready and willing to do the work."
Seven new players put on their Garnet and Black practice gear for the first time today. The signing class of Sabrina D'Angelo, Alexa Gainey, Ariane Lukens, Christa Neary, Andie Romness, Lani Smith and Ali Whitney all participated in practice, going through their first official training session with their new teammates.
"They freshmen have bonded very well with the team," Smith said of the septet. "That's one of the draws for a lot of them in deciding this program (which is) this team is close knit. They're a wonderful group of young women. The players that come in have gelled very well. They're willing to try new things, do the work and be flexible to get ready for the first match."
The group joins a squad that went 15-6-4 last year and returns seven starters, including NSCAA All-American Kayla Grimsley and All-SEC selections Ellen Fahey and Danielle Au. Team captains haven't been set yet as Smith instead is allowing the group of eight seniors - Grimsley and Fahey along with Ali Glemser, Roya Mojarab, Kortney Rhoades, Maria Petroni, Lolly Holland and Natalie Aaron - lead the squad through the beginning of the preseason schedule.
"We're going to rely a lot on the senior group as a whole," Smith said. "It's nice to have a big senior class. They'll all have their own strengths that as a unit will do a good job to lead the team. They've been through tremendous years here at Carolina, so we'll draw on their experience and what it takes to get to the next level. They want to go out on the best year ever, and that's what we're looking forward to as coaches."
With the graduations of Brittiny Rhoades, Brooke Jacobs, Maddy Kill and Mollie Patton, the team will look to those seniors to fill a big void, especially between the pipes where Patton left as one of the top goalkeepers in NCAA history after finishing her career No. 9 in the NCAA record books for career shutouts. Four Gamecocks will look to take over that spot, and whoever earns the position will make their first career start at the first game of the season.
"What makes your team stronger is having depth," Smith said. "To have four goalkeepers competing for one position is a wonderful thing to have. As long as players understand their roles as things get sorted out, that will be great for the program. They've all worked hard. They have their own strengths, and it will be a matter of getting through the preseason to see who wins that spot. Coach Mat Cosgriff does a wonderful job with the goalkeepers and will work hard to get them ready. Someone will have to step up after a great career by Mollie Patton."
South Carolina opens the 2011 season on Aug. 19 when the team travels to Greenville, N.C., to take on the East Carolina Pirates. Fans can get their first look at the 2011 team and get signed posters at the Fan Appreciation Day scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 14 at 1 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena.
"It will be interesting to see where the freshmen insert themselves once we get going," Smith said. "At this point it's a brand new team. It will be interesting to see new faces come in, and some will compliment us right away as the season starts, but it's a little early to say where that will be. We have some great returning players in Ellen Fahey and Dani Henry who have been solid on the backline for us. Kayla Grimsley, Danielle Au, Liz Sinclair and Maria Petroni have had a lot of starting experience. Kortney Rhoades will look to come back after a tough year last year battling injuries all year, and she's one of the most fit on the team at this point. Players like that are ready to go, so it will sort itself out."
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