The No. 2-seeded USC women’s soccer team advanced in the NCAA Tournament with a 5-1 first round win over Cal State Fullerton Saturday.
USC was without Pac-12 Forward of the Year junior Tara McKeown, but the Trojans’ deep roster did not miss a beat. It was the Penelope Hocking show at McAlister Field as the star sophomore forward had 4 goals and an assist, totaling 9 points on the afternoon and accounting for all of USC’s goals.
Things started slow for both sides. USC put on the pressure but was unable to find the back of the net in the first half. The Trojans have only been held scoreless in the first half seven times this season.
After the slow half, head coach Keidane McAlpine made the necessary adjustments before the second half.
“We were a little slow in the first half, we didn’t take some chances,” McAlpine said. “We were able to apply pressure so much in the first half and they didn’t use that many subs, and so I wanted to keep the tempo as high as possible.”
USC’s second half goals came in droves. Junior midfielder Alea Hyatt found Hocking three times in the span of 16 minutes, and the Trojans sprinted ahead 3-0 out of the gate after halftime.
Hocking said the team’s poise going into the second half allowed for such an offensive explosion.
“There was doubt in our minds that we were going to win this game, and we stayed calm and we stayed playing together and just got the job done,” Hocking said in an interview with Pac-12 Network.
It was the first time Hocking has played with Hyatt at the front line, but the two looked like they had played together all year long.
“I always love playing with Alea. I love having her behind me, and playing with her up top was awesome today,” Hocking said. “I’m glad we had that connection today when Tara was on the bench.”
Fullerton was able to get its lone goal on a rebound in the 72nd minute. Senior forward Atlanta Primus fired a short toward the goal that was saved by redshirt junior goalie Kaylie Collins, but Primus got it back and scored on an open net.
It would be the only two shots on goal all afternoon for Fullerton.
Just 30 seconds later, Hocking assisted freshman forward Savianna Gomez for a goal. Hocking finished things off with a goal in the 83rd to secure the 5-1 win.
The Trojans’ 5 goals are the second most in USC postseason history. Hocking’s 4 match a program record for goals in a game and set a program high for goals in a postseason match.
The Trojans have struggled to find energy and intensity in games they have lost, and McAlpine said those weren’t an issue Saturday.
“I thought today we definitely brought the energy that was necessary. Our challenge was to play with postseason intensity,” McAlpine said. “Our ability to keep going and raise our level in the second half was the key to the whole thing.”
The Trojans will move on to face Texas A&M Friday at McAlister Field for the second round of the tournament. McAlpine talked about the familiarity his team has with A&M and the areas of emphasis going into the match.
“A&M brings a different challenge: the tempo they play in terms of their ability to run, the athletes that they have,” McAlpine said. “Our seniors have faced them before. We faced them in 2016, so we are prepared.”
The Trojans will continue their postseason run Friday at home. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m.