COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina women's soccer team opens its 2011 season in Greenville, N.C., to begin a four-match season opening road swing. The No. 21 Gamecocks will help East Carolina christen its new ECU Soccer Stadium before meeting No. 12 Duke in Durham for a Sunday matinee. The meetings are the third against both the Pirates and Blue Devils in the all-time series'.
The Gamecocks return six starters from last season's SEC regular season and tournament runner-up team that went 15-6-4 with a berth in the NCAA Second Round. Senior forward Kayla Grimsley is an All-American candidate and was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List after her record breaking junior campaign that saw her capture the school's single-season points record (34 points).
All-SEC players Ellen Fahey and Danielle Au return in addition to starters Dani Henry, Liz Sinclair and Maria Petroni. Fahey anchors a backline that ended the SEC regular season first in every major defensive category, and will look to join the recent club of departed players Blakely Mattern and Brittiny Rhoades as All-American players. Au, an SEC All-Freshman Team selection, will compliment Grimsley in the attack with an enhanced attacking role.
Henry and Sinclair contributed to South Carolina's 17th-ranked defense last season, and Petroni started 24 of Carolina's 25 games last season as a winger.
The team will break in a new goalkeeper in 2011 with the graduation of Mollie Patton, who left Columbia as one of the top goalkeepers in NCAA history. A quartet of athletes are poised to play between the pipes with seniorRoya Mojarab wielding the most experience and redshirt sophomores Alex Holland andDarien Vercillo making waves during the preseason. True freshman Sabrina D'Angelo brings Canadian national team experience to the position as a starter for the U17 team and will push the upperclassmen for the starting position after being named an SEC Preseason Watch List selection.
ON THE HORIZON
The Gamecocks continue their season-opening road trip with a flight to the Grand Canyon State to take on PAC-12 members Arizona and Arizona State. The Wildcats will host Carolina at 10 p.m. (ET) next Friday before the Sun Devils and Gamecocks meet in a Sunday rematch of last season's 1-1 draw at Stone Stadium.
SOUTH CAROLINA IN SEASON OPENERS
South Carolina enters 2011 with an all-time record of 9-5-2 in season openers. Three games have gone to overtime - College of Charleston (2001), Clemson (2003) and UNC Wilmington (2008). In home contests, the Gamecocks boast a perfect 6-0 record, outscoring opponents 19-2. When heading on the road to open the season, Carolina carries a 3-4-2 record overall after a 1-0 victory at Boston University last season. Friday's East Carolina match marks the fifth time in the past six seasons that Carolina has opened the season on the road. The Gamecocks are 1-2 against ranked opponents, falling to #20 and #13 ranked teams but defeating #1 UNC in 2007. Under Coach Smith, the Gamecocks have gone 6-2-2 in season openers.
SCOUTING EAST CAROLINA
East Carolina was picked by the coaches to finish ninth in C-USA after going 9-9-1 last year. The team is led by senior forward Amanda Malkiewicz who was a Preseason All-Conference team selection after leading her team last year in goals (7), assists (6) and points (20). ECU also returns All-Conference selection Jessica Abshire in the midfield. Christina Cordero returns in goal after starting every match as a freshman last season with two shutouts, 95 saves and a 1.45 goals against average. The match is the third between South Carolina and East Carolina, with the Gamecocks holding a 2-0-0 series advantage with wins in 2002 and 2008. This is the first game in the series to be played in Greenville.
Duke returns all 11 starters to a team that went 11-8-4 last season and advanced to the NCAA Second Round. The Blue Devils were picked to finish sixth in the ACC, widely regarded as the nation's toughest conference. With over 97% of its scoring returning, Duke's offense will be led by a pair of last year's Freshman All-Americans in Laura Weinberg (10g, 2a, 22p) and Mollie Pathman (8g, 5a, 21p). Junior Tara Campbell enters her third season as the starter in goal in Durham with a career of 14 shutouts, 176 saves and a 1.06 goals against average in her first two seasons. Duke holds a 1-0-1 series advantage with the most recent game being a 1-1 draw in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. Duke advanced 4-1 in penalty kicks.