'Never a dull moment' with Gamecocks star Sabrina D'Angelo

nwhite@thestate.comNovember 14, 2013 

Inside of Sabrina D’Angelo resides a pair of distinct personalities.

On the soccer field, South Carolina’s junior goalkeeper displays the intense competitiveness and fearlessness that made her the SEC Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in three seasons.

Off the field, D’Angelo’s free-spirited effervescence shines through with a throaty laugh as she describes her love of outdoor activities from biking to lounging by the river.

Junior defender Taylor Leach knows both sides of her teammate and best friend. The two spend much of their free time away from the field with smiles on their faces, whether they’re watching TV, playing cards or just knocking around. Leach said the outgoing D’Angelo, like many goalkeepers, can be a little weird at times, noting that her friend calls her bicycle “Leo.”

“Sabrina is just a lot of fun, I guess you could put it,” Leach said. “There’s never a dull moment with that girl. She makes awkward situations into the best ones because she just laughs whenever she feels awkward. She’s just a joy to be around.”

Leach, who’s an All-SEC first-team defender, also gets an up-close look at D’Angelo’s flip side as the take-charge player standing in the net.

“She’s the most intense person I know on the field,” Leach said. “Having her play behind me, I have the most confidence in the world. Everybody does. And when you have somebody that vocal who’s that sure of herself, it’s a great feeling.”

It doesn’t hurt that she also possesses excellent skills. D’Angelo arrived in Columbia three seasons ago from Welland, Ontario, and went directly into USC’s starting lineup. She ranks second on the program’s all-time list in shutouts (18) and third in saves (183), starts (57) and goals-against average (0.84) with another season still to play.

She missed the first two weeks of her sophomore season to compete on Canada’s U20 Women’s World Cup team in international play, where she performed well enough to earn year-end honors as that country’s U20 player of the year.

D’Angelo cites her maturity and experience for this 11-shutout season as a junior. That has played a big role in No. 14 USC’s 16-3-2 campaign, which continues Friday night with a first-round NCAA tournament match against Furman on the Gamecocks’ home field.

“Every goalkeeper, when you get to this level, can make a save, but it just comes down to character and how you have that presence on the field. Being able to communicate with your team and make quick decisions at the right time are the most important things,” D’Angelo said. “I think my character shows on the field. You have to be confident as a goalkeeper, and I know I am.”

That confidence has helped her blossom into a leader on a team that has reached the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in seven seasons.

“She has always been a tremendous goalkeeper, but she has taken a step to push our other players,” USC coach Shelley Smith said.

The 5-foot-8 D’Angelo commands respect because her ability ensures the Gamecocks will be competitive against any opponent. She has allowed only 13 goals in 21 games this season. No save was bigger than a one-on-one stop on Florida’s Savannah Jordan, the nation’s leading scorer, in a 2-1 double-overtime win against the No. 6 Gators on the road.

“She can clear the lines for us when we’re under pressure. She’s also very good in the air. When she calls it, she owns the box, and our defenders know she’s coming through,” Smith said. “She plays larger than she is. She’s not a goalkeeper with tremendous size, but she times balls well in the air. She’s athletic and strong and not afraid to get in the mix, all the things you need.”

Opponents have noticed her skills. Clemson coach Eddie Radwanski called D’Angelo “a great weapon.”

“Sabrina provides that lift in knowing they have somebody of a high standard that has your back covered,” Radwanski said. “Shelley’s teams characteristically are in a lot of low-scoring matches, and they have the perfect goalkeeper because she keeps them in a lot of games.”

D’Angelo brings that same dedication to the weight room and the classroom, where she carries a 3.7 GPA in her major of exercise science. She plans to be a strength-and-conditioning coach when her soccer career ends.

Smith points to D’Angelo’s academics, her positive interaction with fans, her willingness to work with youngsters in team camps, and her eagerness to host recruits and sell them on USC as true assets.

“She’s such a good representative of the program in all facets,” Smith said.

D’Angelo’s playing days aren’t likely to end after her senior season next year, D’Angelo hopes to play for Canada’s Women’s World Cup team and later at the professional level.

But she really would love to make the roster one day for the Canadian national team in the sport’s pinnacle event,

The Women’s World Cup is being hosted by her home country in 2015. Andrew Olivieri, her coach on the U20 team, noted both her composure and consistency in last year’s international play and called her inclusion in the national “A” team environment a natural progression.

“There’s just a feeling playing for the national team that’s not like any other,” D’Angelo said. “I still have to prove myself. I’m young compared to the other goalkeepers, and they are great goalkeepers. I’m going to have to wait my time, and when they give me that chance, I’ve got to be ready.”

Until then, though, she wants to reach the highest level of NCAA tournament play – the College Cup in Cary, N.C. on Dec. 6-8 – in her remaining time with the Gamecocks. She considers her decision to come from Canada – her hometown of Welland is 13 miles from Niagara Falls, N.Y. – to the South the right one, despite the cultural differences.

“The Southern hospitality was totally different. I mean, we’re nice in Canada, but they’re really nice down here,” D’Angelo said. “That’s good because I am so far away from home. It’s like my second family here.”

Highly recruited out of Welland’s Notre Dame College School, she chose USC over Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio State and Penn State.

“I fell in love with the city and everything about it. I couldn’t imagine myself at any other school,” she said. “This is definitely the right spot for me, and Shelley and Jamie (Smith) and Libby (Bassett) are the right coaches for me. It’s a perfect match.”

That goes for both of her personalities.

USC VS. FURMAN

What: NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: Stone Stadium

Tickets: $8 for adults, $5 for students and children (first 500 USC students receive free admission)

RECORDS: USC (16-3-2), Furman (17-3-2)

SERIES: USC leads 12-2-1

Key players: USC -- GK Sabrina D’Angelo, D Taylor Leach, Jr., F Danielle Au and MF Elizabeth Sinclair; Furman – GK Rose Hull, F Stephanie DeVita and MF India Robinson

Next: The winner plays the Stanford-Cal State Fullerton winner on Nov. 22.

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