No. 3 seed USC women’s soccer took care of business Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, dismantling Grand Canyon 6-0 at McAlister Field. The six goals match a postseason program record for the Trojans, who have won their last three first-round home matches by five goals or more.
“The energy was great,” head coach Keidane McAlpine said after the game. “We started to get in rhythm and people got to see the ball hit the back of the net. More importantly, we got to see a lot more players play. The more players that play, the more the energy rises in the team.”
The USC offensive onslaught was led by junior attacker Croix Bethune, who scored the fastest hat trick in Trojans history, finding the back of the net three times in just under nine minutes.
Bethune carried the ball through the entire attacking half for her third goal of the afternoon, using a flurry of skill moves to dribble past one GCU center back and send another one crashing to the turf.
The All-Pac-12 First Teamer then beat the diving Antelope keeper to put the Trojans ahead 3-0 in just the ninth minute, offering up an MJ-esque shrug for her teammates on the USC bench.
“I impressed myself, honestly,” Bethune said of her hat trick after the game. “They were telling me on the sideline, ‘that’s very impressive.’”
Bethune also added two assists, including one that was smashed home by senior forward Penelope Hocking in the 56th minute. The pair took home Pac-12 Midfielder and Forward of the Year honors respectively this season, and Bethune’s eight points on Saturday mean they now own the two highest point performances in USC history.
“[Bethune] was one of the players that really wanted to raise her game, and today she did,” McAlpine said of Bethune. “This hat trick had a little bit of everything to it. That’s the kind of play that we expect.”
Hocking made her first start for USC since Oct. 21 against Washington State, and her return to the starting lineup meant the return of USC’s traditional 4-2-3-1 setup. Bethune started at striker with Hocking wide, senior Savannah DeMelo in attacking midfield and Pac-12 All Freshman teammates Simi Awujo and Aaliyah Farmer as the double pivot.
While that formation saw the Trojans rattle off a program-record 11 straight wins earlier this season, it was the first time that iteration had opened a match in 22 days. With three national seeds in No. 2s UCLA and UNC and No. 4 Auburn losing already, a slow start could have proven fatal to USC’s season on Saturday.
Motivated by last Friday’s disappointment in Westwood, the USC attack produced four goals in the opening 45, their highest scoring first half all season. The Antelopes did not manage a single shot on goal while the Trojans put five of their seven on frame.
“We were coming off a disappointing loss where we didn’t show up in the first half,” McAlpine said. “We knew this team had the ability, if given time and space, to score goals. I wanted to make sure we put our team in a situation where there was doubt for them.”
By virtue of UNC’s loss on Saturday, USC will host Penn State in its second-round matchup Friday at McAlister Field. Should the Trojans come out on top, they would stay at home for their third-round contest against either South Carolina or Hofstra on Sunday.