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Clemson Women’s soccer looks to improve upon postseason success

The Clemson Tigers women’s soccer team has started the season looking like one of the best teams in the nation.

Currently ranked fourth, the Tigers have jumped out to a 6-1 record and already have a signature win under their belt. In the first home match of the season, the Tigers outlasted Auburn in a 2-1 double-overtime thriller. At the time, Clemson was ranked thirteenth in the nation, but a series of impressive wins has allowed the Tigers to crack the top five. The Tigers are trying to build off a season in which they finished twelfth in the nation and had a record of 14-5-4. Expectations were high for a team that had a great deal of success last year, and they have lived up to expectations thus far.  

Head Coach Eddie Radwanski deserves a great deal of credit for the Tigers’ early season success. Coming off a 2016 season in which he was crowned ACC Coach of the Year, Radwanski was able to bring in a top ten recruiting class to add to a team that returned all of its starters from a year ago. Radwanski has done an excellent job of incorporating some of the younger players like Kimber Haley and Mariana Speckmaier into a very experienced and talented Clemson team.

The lone loss of the season came against in-state rival South Carolina this past Friday night. The Tigers suffered a 1-0 defeat despite outshooting the Gamecocks 10-3. While this loss will be tough for the Tigers, they must bounce back quickly as their schedule does not get any easier.

The Tigers are in the midst of perhaps their most challenging stretch of the season with games against No. 7 South Carolina, Notre Dame and No. 6 North Carolina. These teams have put together a combined record of 12-4-2, with the only losses coming to other ranked teams. Notre Dame is the first of ten straight ACC opponents the Tigers will face. The ACC certainly appears to be one of the best divisions in the NCAA again this season with six teams currently ranked in the top 20.

The match against North Carolina on Sept. 21 will have added significance for the Tigers as they look to get revenge on the team that knocked them out of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Tar Heels defeated Clemson 1-0 in the third round of the tournament in a very evenly contested match. The Tigers will also be looking to get revenge on reigning ACC champions, Florida State, who eliminated Clemson by a score of 1-0 in the semifinals of the 2016 ACC Tournament. The Tigers take on the Seminoles in the last regular season match of the season on Oct. 26.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, heartbreaking postseason losses have been frequent over the past three seasons. The 1-0 loss to the Tar Heels in 2016 followed two straight exits from the NCAA tournament on penalty kicks. While the Tigers have been one of the nation’s most consistent regular season powerhouses, their postseason success has been limited. This year’s Tigers team is looking to use the losses of previous years as motivation in order to come out on top of the close postseason battles.

If the Tigers are going to continue to have success into the postseason, their defense must continue to perform at a dominant level. Thus far, the Tigers have only conceded two goals in seven games thanks to outstanding play from defenders Mackenzie Smith, Sarah Osborne, Julie Mackin and Sam Staab amongst others. The Tigers currently are amongst the top teams in the nation defensively only allowing a miniscule 0.29 goals per game. The Tigers know that their toughest tests are yet to come, but the outstanding start has been an encouraging sign.

The Tigers offense has been led by an intriguing combination of youth and experience in freshman Mariana Speckmaier and graduate student Jenna Polonsky. The two forwards have combined for twenty points so far this season, which is nearly half of the Tigers’ team total. Both players have four goals to their names so far and are tied for third in the ACC in scoring. For Speckmaier it’s not just the quantity of goals that has been impressive, but it’s the quality that has stood out the most. Speckmaier is tied for the team lead with two game winning goals along with senior Jeni Erickson. The combination of lockdown defense and clutch goal-scoring appears to be the identity that the Tigers have created early in the season.

The Tigers’ hot start to the season has been a result of excellent execution in all aspects of the game. The 2017 Tigers appear to have both the talent and experience that are needed to contend for the ACC title make a deep postseason run. The path will certainly come with challenges in the form of Tar Heels and Seminoles, but the Tigers appear to be as poised as ever to face these challenges.

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