With this weekend’s wins against Northern Arizona and Nebraska, USC’s women’s soccer has started 6-0 for the first time in program history, jumping from No. 4 to No. 2 in the nation.
The Trojans started the weekend with a 3-0 win against NAU in their Friday home opener at McAlister Field. USC struggled to start play, holding possession for the majority of the first half but failing to score as the Lumberjacks kept a bend-don’t-break attitude.
Still, the Trojans coaching staff made key adjustments at the half and it only took 37 seconds for them to go into effect. Sophomore forward Penelope Hocking fired a shot into the far corner of the goal, and the Trojans took a 1-0 lead.
Head coach Keidane McAlpine said it has taken some time for the Trojans to gain momentum, noting how the team has been adjusting after first halves recently.
“They’re not used to these styles of both of the teams we played,” McAlpine said after the game. “They threw some things at us that were a little different, so it took us a little bit to try to get our feet under us. We found our way in the second half once we kind of knew what we wanted to do and how to adjust to what they were doing.”
USC would get 2 more goals in the afternoon: 1 from star junior forward Tara McKeown in the 68th minute and another from senior forward Taylor McMorrow in the 83rd.
Midfielders Daria Petredes, Jalen Woodward and Ashleigh Plumptre, defender Julia Bingham and forwards McMorrow and Natalie Jacobs were all honored for senior day before their win against Nebraska.
It was a similar start for the Trojans on Sunday as Nebraska seemed to put the pressure on USC from the opening whistle. The Cornhuskers pressured the Trojans’ back line and forced USC to play the long ball, but with senior goalkeeper Aubrei Corder playing so far off her line, it was difficult for USC to get anything going offensively to open the match.
Coach McAlpine praised the Cornhuskers for their first half performance.
“Their pressure was really good,” he said. “They’re a very good team, very organized, they know how to battle, they know how to compete, so the first adjustment was to match the competitive level.”
It did take a while for the Trojans to match that intensity, but in the 39th minute McKeown found Hocking, who then found the back of the net as the Trojans took a 1-0 lead.
USC came out looking more comfortable facing Nebraska’s play style for the second half, as the Trojans controlled the flow of the game for the rest of the match.
“We did a much better job in the second half,” McAlpine said. “We wanted to serve the ball a little bit more into that back line, force them to deal with that first one, pick up the second ball and then be able to play from there.”
Hocking, last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, added her fifth goal of the season in the 53rd minute with another assist from McKeown as USC took a 2-0 lead. Hocking had a couple of opportunities for a hat trick but was unable to push one more past the Cornhuskers, ending the game with a 2-0 shutout.
Sophomore goalkeeper Anna Smith recorded the first two shutouts of her career on the weekend, continuing her excellent play in the place of injured redshirt junior Kaylie Collins.
USC received great play from their defense all weekend, but the story around this year’s team remains the same: its forwards.
McKeown added 1 goal and two assists this weekend, surpassing her goal total from last year before Pac-12 play even begins and continues to lead USC in assists. Hocking has 5 goals to her name along with three assists as the duo continues to dominate the pitch.
The team’s coach praised the pair after the weekend sweep.
“We’ve got two of the best forwards in the country and we knew that they were going to be able to break [opponents] down,” McAlpine said. “Their work rate is phenomenal [and so is] their chemistry with each other. They are both very explosive, very good finishers, but their chemistry with each other makes them even more dangerous than normal.”
The Trojans will hope to continue their perfect start as they travel up to Seattle University to take on Redhawks for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday.