It was a tale of two halves for the USC women’s soccer team, which saw its two-goal halftime advantage wiped away in the second 45 minutes. Both overtimes passed without a goal from either side, and Ole Miss eventually prevailed in penalty kicks to advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Overtime was especially cruel to USC, who outshot Ole Miss 10-1 across both periods and put five of those ten shots on target. Junior forward Penelope Hocking had four of them herself, including a penalty kick just two minutes in, but none of them found the back of the net for the Trojans.
“In the overtime, we had already let the game get to a point where they were confident,” USC head coach Keidane McAlpine said. “We were now fighting that momentum, and we just never got all the way comfortable to take those chances as we should.”
Ole Miss junior goalkeeper Ashley Orkus was a key reason why the Trojans lacked finishing quality after the first half.
The All-SEC keeper made eight saves for the Rebels, five of which came in the overtimes. Her bombing free kicks were instrumental in the Ole Miss attack, and she stopped three of the five USC penalties in the shootout to secure the win.
Despite the loss, USC freshman defender Zoe Burns turned in a performance rivaled only by that of Orkus. Her defensive effort single-handedly stopped multiple Ole Miss counterattacking opportunities, while her through balls lead to numerous USC chances and corner kicks won.
She even tracked far enough forward to net the Trojans’ second goal of the contest, burying a right-footed strike off of a rebound. It was true box-to-box brilliance from Burns on Monday night in Wilmington, North Carolina.
“We asked [Burns] to do a lot of different things on the night,” McAlpine said. “She always brings effort. She always brings great energy, and tonight was no different. She definitely helped galvanize our group and keep us moving.”
Along with the play of Burns, set piece execution helped spur the Trojan attack that dominated the first half. They won four corner kicks in the first half alone while conceding zero on the other end.
USC produced great chances on each of those first-half corners, one of which was played short by junior midfielder Madeline Vergura, ultimately finding the head of senior forward Tara McKeown to net the opening goal of the game.
“All year we’ve been very dangerous on our set pieces,” McAlpine said. “The first goal coming off the set piece, it’s something that we’ve been pretty consistent with all year.”
Unfortunately for the Trojans, that first half brilliance was not enough to hold off a Rebel attack that was extremely clinical with its limited set piece opportunities.
An absolute missile of a free kick from Orkus led to the Rebels winning their only two corners of the night within a span of two minutes. The first resulted in a brilliant chance that was deflected out by the Trojans.
The USC defense got no such opportunity on the second, however, as it fell to the right foot of Ole Miss freshman forward Ramsey Davis, who fired it at the near post to grab the equalizer for the Rebels. It was the last goal of the night as the Rebels hung on to advance on penalties.
USC’s unbelievable misfortune in front of goal on a night when they outshot Ole Miss 22-10 is ultimately what ended the Trojans’ season earlier than expected. USC was inches from the winning goal numerous times, but the bedlam of penalty kicks went the Rebels’ way for the second game in a row.
“I’m disappointed with the way it finished,” McAlpine said. “I don’t think it was a great representation of who we had become over the season. I hate it for our seniors who helped us stay disciplined throughout the year and didn’t get a chance to continue to play.”
The 2021 Trojans finished the year with a 7-3-4 overall record and were runners-up in the Pac-12 Conference.