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Defense won South Carolina soccer one championship. The NCAA Tournament is next

The State (Columbia, SC) logo The State (Columbia, SC) 11/15/2019 By Andrew Ramspacher, The State (Columbia, S.C.)

It’s an afterthought at this point to Mikayla Krzeczowski.

South Carolina’s senior goalkeeper has 47 career shutouts to her name — seventh-most in NCAA Division I history — but the last three clean sheets, the three that helped the Gamecocks capture their first SEC tournament title in a decade ... yeah, she was unaware she had accomplished such a feat.

“I didn’t even realize that until after the game,” Krzeczowski said of moments following Carolina’s 1-0 win over Arkansas in the SEC championship. “Somebody was like, ‘You know you just had three shutouts, right?’ I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s pretty cool.’

“Definitely an afterthought, but as long as the team gets the accolades and everybody kind of knows it takes 11 people to make that happen, that’s what’s important.”

A No. 2 seed, South Carolina (16-1-3) hosts Samford (13-3-5) at 6 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Set the over-under on a Bulldog goal at 0.5.

While Samford enters averaging 2.19 goals a game — tops in the Southern Conference — it’s up against a Krzeczowski-anchored defense that’s been more than stingy in 2019.

The Gamecocks have allowed all of seven goals — third-fewest in the country — and none since a 1-1 tie to Florida on Oct. 27. Their three-game run in the SEC tournament produced a total scoreboard of USC 4 and Georgia, Vanderbilt and Arkansas 0.

USC’s 14 shutouts tie it with Monmouth, North Texas and Saint Louis for third-fewest in the country.

“I think the difference between this year and last year, we’re all on the same page,” Krzeczowski said. “A lot of girls that come in and off the bench are a little more experienced. We’re definitely a little more in-sync this year than last year. Communication’s definitely really important to us.

“And everybody’s work ethic, I mean everybody works behind the ball and they’re willing to put their bodies on the line. It definitely makes my job 10 times easier, so we’re just all on a really good page right now.”

Krzeczowski’s supported by a decorated set of defenders, led by Grace Fisk. The senior captain has been SEC Defensive Player of the Year all three seasons she’s been at South Carolina since transferring from Penn State.

“I think the main thing is we know as a team we’re a unit, but we have to make sure we do our individual jobs,” Fisk said. “So if everyone on the back line and all over the field is doing their jobs, then as a unit we’ll be together and we’ll work well together.

“So I think being an individual and knowing our responsibilities, but when it comes together, when everyone’s doing their own thing correct, then it makes everyone work together better.”

The defensive effort so far has been “amazing,” said USC coach Shelley Smith. Keeping it up is key for the Gamecocks as they seek their second trip to the College Cup in three seasons.

“If we continue that kind of work in the postseason and score our goals on the offensive end,” Smith said, “we should make a run. And that’s our goal here.”

NCAA women’s soccer tournament

Who: Samford (13-3-5) at South Carolina (16-1-3)

What: First round game

Where: Stone Stadium

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

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©2019 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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