Washington State women’s soccer coach Todd Shulenberger’s message was clear leading up to the Cougars’ NCAA Tournament quarterfinal matchup against South Carolina.
“The Cougs are coming,” said Shulenberger, whose team faces the second-seeded Gamecocks on Friday on their home pitch in Columbia, South Carolina. “If (South Carolina) gets rattled, we’ll see what they’re made of.”
If South Carolina becomes the latest NCAA power to get overpowered by WSU’s offensively assertive style, the Cougars may be headed to the grandest stage of collegiate soccer: The College Cup Final Four.
The Cougars have taken 103 more shots this season than South Carolina, which is making its third Elite Eight appearance in four seasons.
But WSU (15-6-1), making its deepest NCAA Tournament run in program history, faces one of the finest defensive teams in the country in South Carolina (19-1-3), which has allowed seven goals all season.
The last time South Carolina allowed a goal was Oct. 27 against SEC rival Florida, which resulted in a 1-1 tie.
Senior defender Grace Fisk – one of the top players in the country and a semifinalist for Hermann Trophy awarded annually to the nation’s top player – leads the hard-nosed Gamecocks.
“They don’t score much,” Shulenberger said. “But they don’t allow much scoring, either.”
The Cougars also have the chore of facing one of college soccer’s hottest teams on its own field.
Coming from the soccer-rich Pac-12 Conference – top-seeded Stanford, USC and UCLA are also in the Elite Eight – the Cougars are embracing that challenge.
“We look forward to playing in front of a hostile crowd, but our group loves that,” Shulenberger said.
It wasn’t a problem last weekend for WSU when it upset top-seeded Virginia 3-2 on its home field to advance.
The Cougars, who finished sixth in the Pac-12, opened up NCAA Tournament play with a 1-0 first-round win over Memphis at home before clipping Virginia and blanking West Virginia 3-0 in the Sweet 16 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
WSU has advanced to the NCAA Tournament eight of the last nine seasons and totaled an impressive 23 winning campaigns in its 31-year history.
Behind the program’s second all-time leading scorer in senior Morgan Weaver, graduate transfer Averie Collins, standout goalkeeper Ella Dederick (68 saves) and a group of role players like true freshman and Coeur d’Alene product Bridget Rieken, the Cougars are making one of the school’s deepest tournament runs in any sport.
“There’s something clicking in this locker room right now,” Shulenberger said.
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