COLUMBIA, S.C. -South Carolina women's soccer hosts Mercer in its 2012 home opener Thursday night at Eugene E. Stone III Stadium with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. The match begins a series of six consecutive home games at "The Graveyard" after opening the season on the road last weekend.
The Gamecocks are coming off a 0-1-1 opening weekend after drawing UW-Milwaukee in the season opener before dropping a 2-1 overtime game at Minnesota. Fans can park in the Athletics Village Parking Garage adjacent to Stone Stadium on Heyward Street. Season Tickets for the 2012 season are currently on sale. Ticket prices are $25 for adults and $10 for youth. They can be purchased at GamecocksOnline.com or by calling (800) 4SC-FANS.
ON THE HORIZON
The Gamecocks play only one match on Labor Day weekend with rival Clemson coming to Stone Stadium for a Saturday night clash under the lights. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Mercer was picked by the coaches to finish fifth in the Atlantic Sun and enter the weekend with a 1-0-1 record after defeating South Alabama and drawing Southern Miss in the opening week. Under first-year head coach Tony Economopoulos, the Bears are led by junior goalkeeper Nikki Atkinson, the Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year in the A-Sun. Atkinson earned a shutout and posted five saves in 200 minutes of action last weekend. Sophomore Lauren Gassie and freshman Kim Murphy have scored for the Bears this season. South Carolina holds the series advantage over Mercer, 1-0, after a 7-0 victory in 2005.
Jacksonville was picked by the coaches to finish second in the Atlantic Sun after finishing in a tie for first in the league in 2011. The Dolphins are 1-1-0 on the year after defeating Florida Atlantic in double overtime and falling to FIU. Freshman Jill D'Amico holds a 0.91 goals against average with five saves. Sunday's match marks the first meeting between the Gamecocks and Dolphins.
IN THE POLLS
South Carolina fell from its No. 24 spot in the NSCAA preseason coaches poll, but the Gamecocks are receiving votes in the NSCAA and Soccer Times polls. The Gamecocks also come in at No. 39 by Top Drawer Soccer.
The Gamecocks started a lineup even across the board in both matches over the season opening weekend with three freshmen, three sophomores, three juniors and two seniors earning spots in the Starting XI. Three Gamecocks earning starting nods as freshmen were Coryn Bajema, Caroline Gray and Stevi Parker. Also earning their first career starts over the weekend were sophomores Samantha Gonzalez and Taylor Leach.
LANI MAKES HER MARK
Sophomore Lani Smith earned the distinction of scoring the first goal of the 2012 season after her thrilling buzzer-beating goal at the end of the first half against Minnesota. Smith's goal - which was also the first of her career - came at 44:59 to tie the game at 1-1 going into halftime, but the Gamecocks dropped the match in overtime.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Senior Darien Vercillo opened the season with a shutout of UW-Milwaukee before earning a career-high four saves at Minnesota. Vercillo, who spot-started in goal in 2011, showed her leadership in the net and came up big in both matches to prevent goals on breakaways by both the Panthers and Gophers.
SOUTH CAROLINA IN HOME OPENERS
South Carolina enters 2012 with an all-time record of 12-4-1 in home openers. Three games have gone to overtime - Vanderbilt (1996), Wake Forest (1998) and NC State (2000) - with the Gamecocks going 0-2-1 in those matches. Under Coach Smith, the Gamecocks have gone 9-2-0 in home openers.
HOME AT THE STONE
South Carolina has been nearly unstoppable at Stone Stadium the past five seasons, posting a 48-9-6 record at home since 2006. The streak included a 15-game unbeaten streak from Aug. 31, 2006-Oct. 5, 2007 and a 13-game unbeaten streak at "The Graveyard" from Oct. 19, 2007-Oct. 23, 2008. The lone blemishes on the record are a double-overtime loss to Vanderbilt (Oct. 7, 2007), a loss to #7 Florida (Oct. 30, 2008), two thrillers against #14/13 Wake Forest (2009 and 2011) and losses to Louisville, Kentucky, #23 Minnesota, #20 Georgia and #8 Florida.