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    SEC “Five Questions”: Shelley Smith

    By: Sean Cartell
    SEC Digital Network

    COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina women’s soccer team on Sunday clinched at least a share of its first Southeastern Conference regular-season championship. The Gamecocks go for sole possession of the league crown this Friday night when they travel to Gainesville, Fla., to take on Florida.

    South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith recently sat down with the SEC Digital Network for this edition of “Five Questions.”

    SEC Digital Network: What does it mean to you and your program to clinch at least a share of your first-ever regular season SEC title and how much does that speak to the work your team has put into achieving that goal?

    Shelley Smith: “It is very exciting for our program and says a lot about this group. It has taken a lot of work and coming together as a team this year to put ourselves in this position. I give a lot of credit to the seniors who have continued to bring the team together and show how important it is to give your best effort every time you step on the field, all the while truly enjoying themselves. I couldn’t be happier for the senior class, especially for achieving another goal in winning an SEC title and another first for the program before they finish their time at Carolina.”

    SEC Digital Network: On Sunday, you honored your senior class that has been behind some of the biggest moments in program history. How much has that senior class meant to you?

    Shelley Smith: “This group has helped our program consistently compete on a national level, they have won our first SEC Championship and, each year, bring us closer to the top of the SEC. They came into a program that consisted of some very good returning players ahead of them. Some of these players made an impact on the field right away, while others worked to challenge the players ahead of them, but they all accepted their roles and provide such support for their teammates. They all have played key roles in our success, on and off the field. This senior class, as a group, has truly done a remarkable job as leaders. Each one of them has a strength that they bring to the team, and they have worked as a group to be the captains of the program. They are the epitome of teamwork, and that is how they have found a way to win games and get better from the losses.”

    SEC Digital Network: What has made Kayla Grimsley such a special player and what does it say about her to have accomplished so many school records?

    Shelley Smith: “Kayla is such a special player because she has always been committed to being her best. She devoted a lot of time to her skills as a young player. She loves the challenges that soccer has given her; there is a competitor that shows up every time she is on the field. She makes the most of her training, and then is able to perform on gameday. She combines humor and a competitive nature to make everyone around her better and at ease. She has the ability to make your stomach hurt from laughing so hard and then turn around to a teammate and demand a better effort on the field because she wants to win. Not many can turn it off and on like she does and combine the two, but she finds a way. Jennie Ondo set some impressive records for the players coming after her to try to compete with. Kayla’s ability to take on defenders and figure out how to give her teammates scoring chances after she takes on all the attention has made her special. Her record-breaking points come from a combination of goals and assists, which is what makes her so good. She may not be the pure goal-scorer, but she is more than that. She can find a way to hit the back of the net, but always looking for the more open teammate and delivers a tremendous ball under pressure. That will make her successful at the next level beyond college.”

    SEC Digital Network: What will you work on in practice this week and what will you have to do to beat Florida on Friday night?

    Shelley Smith: “We know we will have to bring our best game into Gainesville to have a chance to win. Florida is a very good team again this year, and is always a challenge to keep off the scoreboard. I know we will need to be aggressive offensively and move the ball quickly when we are in possession. Defensively, we are going to need to be extra vocal and make sure to play together to keep them under pressure. Their passing is very good and they are also better than anyone going 1 v 1 against you, so we know we need to close quickly, be patient in our defending and have good cover all over the field.”

    SEC Digital Network: What have been the keys behind your team’s successes this season?

    Shelley Smith: “The team’s success has come from playing as a team and giving our best effort when we step on the field. Some of the freshmen came in to fill some key roles for us and make an impact on the field right away. The improvements they have made through the year has helped us achieve a strong run towards the end of the season. This team has just become better every week, and has a lot to do with the seniors and the pride they have shown as leaders. In a team exercise to begin the season, we came up with a few words that define our success this season. Grit, Family and Pride were the three words. They have lived by these words that they have believed in and it has shown in their performance on the field and how they have enjoyed their time together.”