The SEC is known for it’s elite level football, but it is quickly becoming known for it’s elite level futbol. The conference produced nine teams in last season’s NCAAT. If the 2018 Regular Season SEC Champion Vanderbilt Commodores want to remain atop the conference, they will have to up their game, and this year’s team looks like they can do it.
2018 was the best season the soccer program put together in 20-some seasons. They won the Regular Season SEC Championship and made the round of 32 in the NCAAT. They produced All SEC and All American Players, and Head Coach Darren Ambrose won SEC Coach of the Year. Basically the opposite of this.
The ‘Dores won the league by a strategic and persistent style of defense. Ambrose changes strategies based on opponents, but he wants his players to play both sides of the ball.
When I asked him about it, he elaborated, “If kids want to play here they have to fight and defend and work hard without the ball. I expect nothing different this fall. If we are committed to defending hard, we have athleticism and skill to create goals, but that alone wont be enough. We still will be a hard working, tough, defensive minded team. Its mandatory in this league. At the end of the day win or lose, we want every opponent to walk off the field knowing they played Vanderbilt because of the passion and intensity with which we played the game.”
Hold on, I’m about to run through a wall after hearing that. Go ahead, print it out and tape that paragraph to your bathroom mirror to get fired up every morning.
This relentless attack wears opponents down, giving Vanderbilt midfielders and forwards opportunities to possess and strike. [Went searching for possession stats on the Vandy Soccer website. The page doesn’t exist, and continues to redirect to the page I navigated from. If the page is created, I’ll update this article]
The program lost three Seniors, one of them Captain Gabby Rademaker. While Gabby was a Captain, she only played in 11 games and started one. Yet, her leadership was valuable to the team, and that can be a difficult position to replace. However, Ambrose does not put leadership on just one or two players.
“I see leadership as a function of all of our upper classmen. We expect the lessons they have learned in their time on the program to be present all year. Leadership isn’t a title, it’s a way of behaving and speaking. I think this group has a lot of great kids, all of whom want the best for this team and are capable of setting standards the right way, which is the core of good leadership.”
As for this year’s official captains, Lauren Demarchi and Nia Dorsey have taken on the mantle.
It’s not all defense for the ‘Dores, though. Ambrose empowers each player in each class to perform at their position, and last year, the Commodores scored more goals than any team in program history aside from the 2000 team.
Last year’s offense was led by stand out RS Frosh Haley Hopkins who was named Third Team All American and was called up to the on the USWNT U-23 in the Spring. Hopkins led the team in scoring with 14 goals, sneaking it past the goalie 20% of the time. She also added six assists on the year.
Kaylann Boyd was the team’s second leading scorer with seven, making she and Hopkins the 6th highest scoring duo in the nation.
Losing three Seniors hurt, but the incoming class of freshmen (and a transfer) promises a bright future. Of the five players signed, three played on their national teams and one was a four star recruit. Standouts include:
- Maya Antoine, will be a defender. She is from Toronto and has played on the Canadian U-17 and U-20 teams. She was named to the Best XI team at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
- Ashtyn Fink is a forward out of Nevada. She was a four star recruit, the All-Southern Nevada Offensive Player of the Year, and the Nevada Max Preps Player of the Year.
- Sophi Guilmette is a defender and goal keeper from Montreal. She played for the Quebec Team and the Canada Games and the Canadian U-15 team at CONCACAF.
- Kimya Raietparvar is a midfielder from Denton, Texas. She played for the U-16 Futsal US National team and the U-19 Iranian National Team.
The team also added transfer Hannah Morgan this Spring from Providence. Morgan was a first team Big East All Freshman and Top100 Freshman by TopDrawerSoccer.com.
In the goal this year, Demarchi will continue her dominance as the cornerstone of the defense. She posted five shut outs and over 50 saves. She was responsible for 13 wins. Last year, she split time with Taiana Tolleson through the out of conference schedule and two games into the SEC schedule, but earned the full time on the line for the rest of the season.
The team may be better, but this year’s schedule is tougher. Vandy plays five tournament teams in their SEC slate- Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, LSU, and Texas A&M. Hunter’s Orange went to the Elite Eight. Arky, USCe, and the Bayou Bengals went to the second round, and the Texas Barners made the Sweet Sixteen.
Maybe the SEC doesn’t like when little old Vanderbilt goes around knocking off the big dogs? When I asked Ambrose about this theory, he was polite in shooting down my theory.
“The schedule is done two years in advance. We always play the east and randomly drop 3 of the west. Last year we didn’t play TAMU or Ark who were in the top 5.”
I told him that I was not going to let his facts get in the way of my conspiratorial outrage.
His facts- his matter of fact demeanor, rather, is what I find most impressive. I asked him about this year’s team and their attitude. Last year he told me it was one of the most competitive teams he had been around.
This year? He hasn’t seen them since the Spring, but come August, “I think they see an opportunity this year for another great season and the only way that happens is if they work, dig deep and compete. That’s what makes them a good team. When they don’t do those things we can become an ordinary team with some talented kids.”