Zullo sisters bright spot for South Carolina women’s soccer

Zullo sisters bright spot for South Carolina women’s soccer

Luciano Zollo, left, is joined by her sister, and Corinna Zullo on the University of South Carolina soccer team.

Luciano Zollo, left, is joined by her sister, and Corinna Zullo on the University of South Carolina soccer team.

tglantz@thestate.com

The scene played out like any other substitution sequence in soccer. The player jogging on the field removed her training pinnie and handed it to the player jogging off. The game carried on.

This happened midway through the first half of South Carolina’s match with Vanderbilt last Thursday. It was all routine — except for the individuals involved. Gamecocks forward Luciana Zullo was checking in for Gamecocks forward Corinna Zullo.

USC women’s soccer coach Shelley Smith, now in her 21st season, is a veteran at having the sometimes difficult task of telling a player she’s being replaced in the starting lineup. Until recently, however, Smith’s never had to do that with sisters.

Sophomore Corinna Zullo was slated to make her first start of the season Sept. 16 at Missouri. In turn, senior Luciana Zullo was coming off the bench.

“I talked to Luc about it and she was amazing,” Smith said. “She gave all the answers you want to hear out of players — ‘I’m doing what’s best for the team, I’m open to whatever’s needed.’ She was excited to see Corinna have the opportunity to start.

“The fact that we’ve been able to make the change and they support each other, it’s a huge positive. It’s just something we want in anyone on the team.”

South Carolina (8-2, 3-0 SEC) is 3-0 with the younger Zullo starting at right forward. The lineup switch was less of a knock on Luciana’s play — the older Zullo has a goal and two assists this season — and more of a full-team decision as, Smith said, Luciana’s versatility makes her a valuable reserve.

Corinna, meanwhile, is tied for the team lead with four goals.

“We’re such a competitive team and we need minutes from a lot of people in order to contribute to our success,” Luciana said. “So just changing up the lineup was what the coaches felt was best in terms of rotation and what not, so I was completely fine with that. But just the fact it was Corinna, it makes the situation a little bit funny. But I love it and I love it for her and I’m just so supportive of her and want her to do the best when she’s on the field.”

The Zullo sisters have a genuine love for each other and make no secret about being each other’s biggest fan. It’s no wonder Smith didn’t sense any pettiness from Luciana after the lineup decision. When Corinna scored her first collegiate goal last October against third-ranked Arkansas, Luciana was so happy that she cried. Corrina’s favorite shared soccer moment with her sister is when Luciana scored against Charlotte earlier this season.

“That was the first goal I saw her score while we’ve been (college) teammates,” Corinna said. “It was just really special to be there and celebrate. I was on the bench and I was just screaming.”

Daughters of a mother who played soccer through high school and a father who wrestled collegiately, the Zullos came to Columbia after decorated careers in New Jersey. They played together for one season at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, combining for 30 goals on a state championship team.

While Luciana went off to USC, Corinna only seriously considered the Gamecocks a few years later when the coaching staff made it known they were recruiting her for her — and not necessarily the family connection.

“They actually found me at a game and looked at the pamphlet and were like, ‘Oh my God, that’s Luciana’s sister,’ ” Corinna said. “They found me personally. It wasn’t like they recruited me through Luciana. They found me through watching me. So I really liked that and it felt like I wasn’t following in her footsteps — I was making my own way.”

An injury shortened Luciana’s 2020 season. She’s now a “super senior” after taking advantage of the NCAA’s allowance of an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Naturally, she’s cherishing every moment of this bonus time with her sister.

“It just makes this year a lot more special because Corinna’s not a freshman anymore and as we’re getting older, it’s really enjoyable to see her develop not only as a player, but a person as well,” Luciana said. “Just to be here and be able to continue to watch her grow as I have throughout her whole life.”

The Zullo bond remains strong. No matter who’s starting over the other.

“We just get along really well,” Corinna said. “Even if we do something that maybe annoys the other, we just deal with it. I guess we’re not like normal sisters because we really don’t fight too much.”

Next game

Who: South Carolina (8-2, 3-0 SEC) vs. Auburn (8-2, 2-1)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Stone Stadium in Columbia

Watch: Streaming on SEC Network Plus

This story was originally published September 28, 2021 12:00 AM.


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