Savannah McCaskill holds her lucky ball at Stone Stadium.
Photo by Caroline Grigg.

By Caroline Grigg

A bright smile rolls across Savannah McCaskill’s face as she picks up a soccer ball to juggle. She moves the ball from one foot to the other without missing a beat. Effortlessly, she discusses pranks she pulled on the team, her superstitious pre-game routine, and the latest dessert she ate from Kaminsky’s.

McCaskill is University of South Carolina women’s soccer starting forward. The senior holds 24 awards since her freshman year and is in the program’s record book over 30 times. Named one of the top 3 players in Division 1 soccer, McCaskill’s humility would never let her tell you that. With stats that can’t be beat by anyone in the Southeastern Conference, she’s still never fully satisfied.

Her first memories in life are of a soccer ball at her foot while running through her front yard in Sumter, South Carolina. She grew up cheering on Clemson University, but now she clothes herself in garnet and black as she steps into Stone Stadium. From a young age, her playing skill was two steps ahead of everyone else her age.

“She was always too fast and skilled for the teams we played on growing up,” says Abbey De’ Mare, McCaskill’s childhood friend and longtime teammate. “Coaches would have to dumb down her play so our team could work with her. She was so confident in herself and was always eager to outplay everyone on the field.”

McCaskill moved from Sumter to Irmo, South Carolina, during middle school but the teams in the surrounding area still weren’t challenging enough. She began making the 2-hour drive to Greenville three times a week.

“I made the region team in 8th grade and that’s when I realized I was actually pretty good at this sport,” McCaskill says. “Once I hit 9th grade I started receiving invitations to Olympic development camps and college camps, this is when I think I saw I had the potential to be a top Division 1 athlete.”

McCaskill knew she would have to work harder than before as she entered her freshman year at USC. The team was composed of top athletes. Her skill alone wouldn’t get her to the top.

As expected, McCaskill began to make a name for herself her first year. She clinched a starting spot at forward and exceeded all expectations. “College soccer is so different than club. My freshman year I had a good group of seniors who taught me about getting stuck into tackles,” McCaskill says. “I learned you had to put in the extra work to be able to play with this level and to adapt to it. I realized we could win a lot of titles.”

In spring her freshman year, McCaskill got invited to a U.S. Women’s National Team camp for her age group. She continued to train at a level that was high above most everyone else her age. Yet, McCaskill describes this moment as one of her greatest regrets in her college career.

“I took it for granted,” McCaskill says as she shakes her head. “I was training like normal and wasn’t doing anything extra to prepare me for the opportunity. It showed. I definitely didn’t perform as good as I could have. And I thought forever that I missed my shot.”

Returning home, McCaskill continued to another season of winning, creating her legacy in the program. When the time came her sophomore year for a call up to train with the national program, she never received the call.

“Dealing with that disappointment when you have the aspiration to be the best player in the world is hard,” Lindsey Lane, McCaskill’s best friend and teammate says. “But she was determined to overcome it.”

Even though she gained multiple awards and broke records that year, she decided to change her role and her lifestyle to meet the far-reaching expectations she set for her junior year. “I knew I was never the fittest on the field but my vision and skill made up for that,” McCaskill says. “I had to become a 90-minute player so I didn’t have to come out for a break during the game. This meant I needed to train harder than I had been in the past.”

She changed her eating regime and sleep schedule to that of a national athlete. Lights out was at 10 p.m.  And becoming an early bird was necessary. She began training above and beyond the intense workout routines required of the team. Sprints became a daily event for McCaskill and she focused on the quality of her training instead of the quantity.

“I now love to sweat and making sure I’m getting in a good workout every day,” McCaskill says. “If I go a day without a good sweat, I feel like I’ve wasted my day. Fitness is no longer an issue for me.”

McCaskill set her goal and reached it quickly. Her junior season she started and could play the whole game at her best pace without needing a break.

“McCaskill’s junior year was her All-American campaign. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone improve this much from her freshman year to senior year,” Alex Buchman, McCaskill’s assistant strength coach says. “Her mentality was more important than the fitness. She’s self-motivated and kept the mentality of wanting the success and win more than anyone else.”

After her junior year season ended, she was focusing on off season training schedules and keeping up with school. “I was sitting at my kitchen table the morning of December 16 eating cereal. I checked my email and there was an invitation to join the U23s U.S. National team training camp,” McCaskill says. “I kept thinking that it couldn’t be real. I finally was getting a second chance to prove myself to the national teams. I knew I had to go and have fun.”

McCaskill left that spring to travel the world playing for the U23 U.S. Women’s National team. She earned the role of captain and traveled from country to country her spring semester. One would think there was no way McCaskill could keep up with school while also representing the United States on the soccer field. But, she defied the norm and continued her classwork working her way to gain a degree in exercise science.

“When people see McCaskill play, they think it’s done by pure skill,” says McCaskill’s teammate Dominique Babbitt. “Then they see she’s excelling in her classes too. “And I don’t think they understand the pressure she holds set by the university, community, and especially herself. But every time she finds her way to success.”

After her stint with the U23s National team, she got called in by the coach of the U.S. Women’s National team. McCaskill got asked to come train with the national team for a couple days after the U23 camp. “Playing alongside players like Alex Morgan and Hope Solo was surreal,” McCaskill said. “I got to see the level I need to reach to be able to compete with these girls for a spot on this team. Especially for a spot in the World Cup and upcoming Olympics.”

Her senior year is unfolding quickly. Though she may not be racking up the goals like she did in years past, she is learning more about being a leader.

She is focusing first on competing in the NCAA Division 1 tournament this fall.  Then her focus will shift to graduating a semester early on December 18.  After graduation, McCaskill will patiently wait for the professional women’s soccer draft in the spring. She is expected to be one of the top three picks.

“I’m close to breaking the overall points record for the school. I’m seven points away from tying, and I need to get to 119 goals to tie,” McCaskill says.  “That would be awesome, but I feel like if I’ve left my jersey better than I found it then I can call my college career a success.”

Grigg is a public relations senior