South Carolina women’s soccer announces 2011 schedule

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina women's soccer coach Shelley Smith announced Saturday a 20-match 2011 schedule that includes the program's first trip to the state of Arizona, five fixtures against teams that advanced to last season's NCAA Tournament and a Sept. 9 rivalry game at Historic Riggs Field against Clemson.

"This year's schedule will once again be challenging for our team and should prepare us well for any post season play," Smith said. "We always want to be ready for SEC play, and this schedule will give us several tests against quality opponents before we begin that part of the season. It won't be easy, but I am confident our players will meet the challenges ahead."

The Gamecocks open the 2011 season with four consecutive away games as the team travels to the state of North Carolina for the first weekend of the season before flying out west for the second weekend. The season opener is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 19 at East Carolina before the team takes on perennial ACC title contender Duke that Sunday in a 4 p.m. match. Carolina then travels the next weekend to the Grand Canyon State for fixtures against Pac-12 members Arizona and Arizona State. The Aug. 26 game will be the first meeting between the Gamecocks and Wildcats, and the Aug. 28 match at Arizona State is the backend of a home-and-home series that ended in a 1-1 draw at Stone Stadium last season. The Sun Devils advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year last season.

"Arizona will be an exciting opportunity for our players to travel across the country to where we have not been before as a program, and play two strong opponents," Smith said of the trip.

South Carolina's home opener is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 2 against Northeastern at 7 p.m. The team then travels to Clemson, S.C., for the annual Carolina Cup tournament with matches against the Tigers and UNC Wilmington. The non-conference schedule ends with home dates against two teams that won their respective 2010 conference championships Charlotte (Sept. 15) and Wake Forest (Sept. 18). The 49'ers won the A-10 regular season title, and the match renews a rivalry between teams that have played eight times the past 15 seasons. The Demon Deacons won the ACC tournament title, and the match marks the third straight year that the two teams will meet on the pitch. Wake Forest defeated South Carolina at Stone Stadium in the 2009 NCAA Round of 16 by a 1-0 score, and the Gamecocks defeated the Demon Deacons at Spry Stadium last season by a 1-0 score.

"We know Clemson will be difficult at their place," Smith said. "It is such a big rivalry game, so there is always a lot of emotion.   The Carolina Cup will be another great opportunity to showcase some strong Division I teams from the Carolinas, highlighted by our rivalry game with Clemson on Friday night."

The SEC slate begins with a road weekend at Tennessee (Sept. 23) and Georgia (Sept. 25) before the Gamecocks face a four-match homestand featuring Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Auburn. Four of the final five games will come on the road, beginning with a trip to the Magnolia State and fixtures against Mississippi State (Oct. 14) and Ole Miss (Oct. 16) before Thursday night match at LSU (Oct. 20). The regular season home finale will see Arkansas travel to Stone Stadium on Oct. 23 before the Gamecocks travel to Florida for the final game of the season on Oct. 28.

"Our conference schedule is always demanding, especially in a year like this when we play an additional away game," Smith said. "We will need to play consistently and get results on the road as we face top opponents throughout the season."

The SEC Tournament will again be held at the Orange Beach Soccer Complex in Orange Beach, Ala., with the quarterfinal round scheduled to begin Wed., Nov. 2. The tournament final will be broadcast live on ESPNU on Sunday, Nov. 6.

South Carolina went 15-6-4 last season and finished as the SEC tournament and regular season runner-up with a record of 8-2-1 against conference opponents. South Carolina appeared in the SEC Tournament title match for the second consecutive year, falling by a 1-0 score due to an own goal. Carolina lost six letterwinners from last year's team and will welcome seven newcomers in 2011. The Gamecocks return seven starters from last year's squad including NSCAA All-American Kayla Grimsley and All-SEC selections Ellen Fahey and Danielle Au.

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