Vanderbilt has reached the SEC Soccer Tournament Final by beating Mississippi State 4-0, Tennessee 4-2, and Texas A&M 3-1. The tournament run has been a little surprising but more fitting with pre-season expectations. Those expectations were not met during a lackluster 4-4 regular season due to some injuries and shaky goalkeeper play by Sophie Guilmette before Sarah Fuller took over and became a fantastic anchor to the defense. The most recent match was tied late into the match before Vanderbilt found a 2nd goal to lead then took advantage of a mistake under pressure to expand the lead to the comfortable final margin.
The scoring was opened in the 24th minute by a fantastic individual effort by Haley Hopkins. She picked the ball up at midfield and drove straight at 2020 SEC Co-defender of the Year Karlina Sample. Hopkins dropped her shoulder to fake an inside move then cut outside the defender before sprinting passed the off-balance Aggie. Hopkins never gave A&M’s goalkeeper a chance to attack and put a low shot across the goal into the far corner. Vanderbilt’s defensive work was problematic in the succeeding 10 minutes, and Texas A&M got their equalizer when Kimya Raietparvar turned the ball over when she should have dropped the ball to Fuller for a reset. Instead, the turnover left Fuller out of position when Kate Colvin put a long shot over her head and into the net.
The Commodores shouted for a penalty kick about 5 minutes later as an Aggie defender chested a corner down but used her hand, inadvertently but still illegally, to gain full control of the ball. Abi Brighton would have a few chances on blocked shots to unleash rocket volleys, but she was unable to find the target. Myra Konte also lived up to her reputation for driving on the dribble out of the back and into the heart of other team’s midfield or defense. None of those runs resulted in goals but did provide some opportunities.
Vanderbilt would finally re-take the lead in the 77th minute. Leila Azari squared up a defender then made a quick move to get enough space to get a cross into the box. Haley Hopkins scored her second goal of the game with a powerful header that left her marker and the goalkeeper standing and staring. About 4 minutes later, Raegan Kelley jumped on an attempted Texas A&M clearance that was either terribly mishit, struck another Aggie, or both. She did not miss her chance and gave Vanderbilt a little breathing room for the final 9 minutes of regulation.
Today, Vanderbilt faces the #1 seed in the tournament, the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas tore through the regular season with their only loss being 2-1 to South Carolina. For the regular season, Arkansas averaged scoring 2.3 goals per game (1st in the SEC) while allowing only 1.3 goals per game (4th in the SEC). Kayla McKeon led the Hogs with 5 goals while Parker Goins and Anna Podojil added 4 goals. Podojil also had 7 assists on the season to lead her team. Konte, Harriot, and Shamburger along with Fuller will have to be at their best to stem the Arkansas attack. Brighton will also have a vital role in slowing attacks to prevent any odd-lady chances for the Razorbacks.
Today’s match kicks off at 1 PM Central on the SEC Network. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament that has been rescheduled for the spring due to COVID.