Vanderbilt’s soccer team opened their season yesterday with a home match against the Kentucky Wildcats. The Commodores took the field in a 3-5-2. Sophomore goalkeeper Sophie Guilmette got a somewhat surprising start in goal instead of Sarah Fuller, a senior who saw limited action behind last year’s brick wall tandem of Lauren Demarchi and Taiana Tolleson. In front of her, Ella Shamburger was between Myra Konte and Madiya Harriot on defense. The midfield had a trio in the center with Abi Brighton and Kimya Raietparvar providing the defensive base and Raegan Kelley as the offensive thrust while flanked by Madison Elwell and Leila Azari. Haley Hopkins and Alex Kerr were the forwards.
The Commodores mostly controlled the flow of the game with an expansive style of play from the start. Their passing let them down a few times though. However, Hopkins did get to the end line and squared a pass across the box for Kerr who made good contact that Kentucky goalkeeper Brooke Littman spectacularly flailed a foot at to save.
Some miscues were expected with preseason camp having a start-stop cadence due to some COVID 19 cases and quarantining. Unfortunately, the first major error for either team was Guilmette coming out of her box to play the ball. She was beaten to the ball by an aggressive move by Kentucky’s most dangerous attacker Jordyn Rhodes. Rhodes’s tackle left Guilmette on the ground and resulted in the ball landing back at her feet for a simple finish from the top of the box just over 32 minutes into the game. The Wildcats would strike again 30 seconds later with Rhodes being played in 1v1 with Guilmette by Marissa Bosco. The striker would calmly slide the ball past the Commodore netminder as she came out to close the angle.
Down 2-0, Vanderbilt battled but could not find a goal before halftime. Brighton nearly tallied on a 20-yard half volley that flew less than a foot wide of the post. The Wildcats had managed 8 shot attempts with 4 on goal. Vanderbilt took 10 shots with Littman called into making 5 saves. When the second half started, it was all Commodores. The Wildcats would only make 1 attempt on the Commodore goal with Guilmette not needing to make a save as it sailed wide. On the attack, Vanderbilt would pepper Littman. The ladies in white, black, and gold would launch 12 shots.
The Commodores got on the board when freshman midfielder Amber Nguyen whipped a cross in that Hopkins would take one touch to control near the PK spot then fire it across the goal and passed a sprawling Littman. The Commodores had halved the deficit 7:30 into the 2nd half. Six minutes later, defender Madiya Harriot tracked down a Kentucky clearance from a Vanderbilt corner kick then layed the ball off to Blue Ellis at the top corner of the box. Ellis took a touch towards the middle of the field then laced a left-footed shot that pinged off the far post and into the net. Littman had no chance to make that save either.
Vanderbilt kept the pressure on Kentucky with Hopkins nearly scoring from a flicked header that forced Littman to make a nice dive to the top corner. The pressure would pay off in the 78th minute. Olivia Simmons got to the end line at the edge of the box then cut back and layed the ball off to the oncoming Leila Azari. Azari lobbed a ball to the back post for Hopkins who used a clear height advantage and determination to head the ball in to the net for a Commodore lead.
The Commodores never let up and had numerous chances to extend the lead. Abi Brighton’s rocket from 25 yards out that was lightly tipped by Littman before smashing into the crossbar and landing on top of the net was probably the best chance.
Overall, this was a very good opening performance. Vanderbilt had 64% of the possession and 9 corner kicks to Kentucky’s 0. Also, according to the official box score, Vanderbilt spent 26% of the game possessing the ball in the quarter of the field nearest Kentucky’s goal. The graphic and box score below are from the official box score.
Vanderbilt’s statistics and possession chart is on the right. The territorial dominance finally paid off in the second half. Hopkins started her campaign with 2 goals on 10 shots with 4 on goal. Ellis scored on her only shot attempt. Nguyen, Harriot, Azari, and Simmons would all get credited with assists, so the NCAA apparently does give secondary assists, which is not customary for soccer.
The Commodores will head to Knoxville next Sunday. The Lady Vols dropped their opener at Alabama 3-1. Soccer rivalry games are always entertaining affairs. The tackles will be flying, and it is always interesting to see how the officials try to manage the raised intensity and emotions. The earliness of the meeting could make keeping composure even more important than usual. An in-depth preview of THEM will be up before the 1 PM Central kickoff. The game is slated to be televised on ESPNU!