USC thrashes Grand Canyon in first round of NCAA Tournament

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Women’s soccer began its 2021 NCAA tournament Saturday with a convincing 6-0 win against Grand Canyon University in the first round. The Trojans returned to winning ways at a crucial point after losing their final Pac-12 match against UCLA. 

USC got off to a fast start in the 4th minute when Pac-12 Midfielder of the Year junior Croix Bethune scored the first goal of the game after receiving a pass from redshirt senior midfielder Savannah DeMelo. 

Three minutes later, fellow first team All-Pac-12 senior forward Penelope Hocking crossed a ball into the penalty box and into DeMelo — who made way to allow Bethune to score her second goal of the match with a first-time strike. 

Bethune, USC’s leading goalscorer on the season, completed her hat-trick nine minutes into the match when she dribbled past the entire Grand Canyon back-line before providing a composed finish past the goalkeeper. Ten minutes later, Bethune combined with freshman midfielder Simi Awujo to provide the All-Freshman the last goal of the first half and make it 4-0. 

Despite sitting many of its top players, the Trojans resumed their run two minutes into the second half when Bethune provided a through pass to Hocking in the penalty box before Hocking, USC’s all-time leading goalscorer, converted her second goal since her return from injury. One minute later, All-Freshman midfielder Aaliyah Farmer collected a series of ricochets in the penalty box before comfortably notching the 6th and final goal against Grand Canyon. 

Pac-12 Coach of the Year Keidane McAlpine saw an improvement from the two previous laborious matches against Stanford and UCLA, as the former saw the Trojans concede two in the first half before eventually mounting a comeback. 

“I saw some fight, I saw the fight that was necessary to come out and play like we did,” McAlpine said in a postgame interview. “We had two games [Stanford and UCLA] where we didn’t have great first halves so we wanted to come out with a different energy, a different urgency. And I thought they did a fantastic job of bringing the game out from the beginning.” 

After UCLA’s and Stanford’s losses at the hands of UC Irvine and Santa Clara University respectively, USC and Washington State remain the only Pac-12 teams left in the NCAA tournament. 

“Just based on the results today, now knowing we are going to be here … it just makes everything better,” McAlpine said. “The energy in the group is going to be better, it’s going to be a more confident week in terms of our ability to go out and play well.” 

After North Carolina’s surprising loss against South Carolina, USC will now host Penn State, at home Friday Nov. 19 at Soni McAlister Field.