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Georgia forward Mollie Belisle (12) dribbles the ball on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, at the Jack Turner Soccer Stadium in Athens, Georgia. The Georgia soccer team defeated South Carolina 1-0 in their home opener. (Photo/Julian Alexander, jalexander@randb.com)

Georgia soccer defeated reigning SEC champions South Carolina 1-0 in Athens on Sunday afternoon to earn its first win of the season and first victory over the Gamecocks since 2014.

Sunday’s match also marks the first return of a Georgia team to the field for the 2020-2021 season.

Led by head coach Billy Lesesne, the Bulldogs returned to the field in an identical manner from which they left it –– facing South Carolina. The two teams met in Orange Beach, Alabama, during the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament where Georgia fell short in a 1-0 season-ending defeat.

Preceding the game, both teams made statements in support of racial equality by each player brandishing red signs reading “Show Racism the Red Card.” It was the first time a Georgia team has been able to collectively make such a statement on the field after a summer filled with advocacy for social justice.

Coming out in a 3-5-2 formation, the Bulldogs’ first half saw much back-and-forth between the two attacking lines with Georgia getting seven shots off with two on frame, compared to the Gamecocks’ five and two. Returning forward Abby Boyan led the charge for Georgia with two shots in the first 45 minutes, accompanied by senior Mollie Belisle and the Bulldogs’ leading scorer in 2019, Chloe Chapman, who took one shot each.

“Our [defensive] players in practice … they recognize what we're trying to do offensively so to see it against outside competition for the first time will give us a great opportunity to have some film study,” Lesesne said. “Hopefully not just the players that are out there experiencing today, but others that will be factoring into games moving forward have an opportunity to see how this works against outside competition.”

After her numerous first-half offensive efforts, Boyan eventually found the back of the net in the 63rd minute after Belisle connected with the open forward in the middle of the box. Boyan was able to quickly pivot and slot the ball to the back post to put the Bulldogs up 1-0, where the score remained for the rest of the game.

“It was a whole team effort for sure,” Boyan said. “We lost to [South Carolina] in the first round of the SEC Tournament so it's definitely something we wanted to beat them in. They had a lot of practice and we studied them a lot. So definitely something coming for us and we played really hard.”

Georgia’s back line remained consistent throughout the match to earn the shutout as returning seniors Caroline Chipman, Kayla Bruster and Cecily Stoute protected goalkeeper Emory Wegener and neutralized the Gamecocks’ chances in the box. To begin the season, Wegener has started more games than any other goalkeeper currently playing in the SEC.

With one win under their belts, the Bulldogs will travel to Gainesville, Florida, on Sept. 26 to take on the Gators in their second match of the 8-game season.

“To play [South Carolina] immediately was a good measuring stick for our team and I thought that we measured up well today,” Lesesne said. “I think it's very important for us to bend but not break and I thought we did well today. Hopefully that gives us the ability as we go to Florida to play another traditionally very strong team.”

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