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Soccer Preview and Gamethread: Chattanooga (Exhibition)

The first look

Syndication: Tallahassee
Raegan Kelley is one player expected to score more goals for the Commodores this season.
Joe Rondone/Democrat,

The Chattanooga Mocs went 7-3-1 (6-2-1 in SoCon) last season playing entirely in the spring. Their lone nonconference matchup was their season opener hosting North Alabama. They finished 3rd in the conference but lost their first-round conference tournament matchup to eventual champions Furman, who finished 2nd during regular season. The SoCon limited their conference tournament for the 2020-21 season, presumably due to COVID.

The Mocs seemed to struggle to find their optimal lineup as only 6 players started 8 or more of the 11 matches. It was not a case of COVID restrictions limiting availability either as 14 players appeared in 10 matches with one more player playing in 9 and another individual playing 8. The cause of the lineup shuffling might well have been lack of scoring as the Mocs only scored 11 goals in 11 matches. Their anemic offense was covered by a very stingy defense which only conceded 6 goals on the season.

The base of Chattanooga’s defense was split between now-junior goalkeepers Abbey Sadler and Ashton Shields. Sadler played in 5 matches with 4 starts and only allowed a single goal while facing 15 shots. Shields surrendered 5 goals in her 7 matches, all starts, against 24 shots. Two defenders who started 10 matches also return in Sophomore Avery Catlett and Graduate Student Maggie Shaw. Shaw also contributed an assist to go with her defensive work.

Scoring goals may be even more rare for UTC though. Chloe Arnold scored 4 of those 11 goals but is no longer listed on the roster, even though she was a junior last season. I could not find any reports of a transfer, so it is unclear why she departed. Furthermore, Emily Szymanski (2 goals) and Osa Iyare (1 goal) have also moved on according to the 2021 roster. Of course, without knowing their roster better, they may have some younger players who will be stepping up. They face a tall task against the presumed Vanderbilt back line, whichever alignment or personnel are used.

When it comes to the Vanderbilt Commodores, I previewed the goalkeepers/defenders, midfielders, and forwards this week separately. Head Coach Darren Ambrose has typically taken a very professional approach to preseason matches. He is certainly not afraid to experiment. Needing to replace Haley Hopkins and having a few highly ranked freshmen, the combinations up top for the Commodores may rotate frequently. Remember, the NCAA allows an unlimited number of substitutions, but players who are subbed off in the first half may not re-enter until halftime. Players may be subbed off and re-enter once during the 2nd half. I am not sure if preseason matches have more relaxed rules in that regard as friendlies at the professional level do – though never allowing a player to re-enter after being subbed off.

I am going to take my best stab at guessing the starting eleven, assuming all players are healthy and available AND Coach Ambrose fields what he thinks is his best lineup throughout. I think it will be Kate Devine in goal with Konte, Shamburger, and Harriot in front of her. Maddie Elwell keeps her place on the left, as do Kimya Raietparvar and Abi Brighton at holding mid and Raegan Kelley at attacking mid. Arizona transfer Ava Hetzel is my pick to take the right midfield spot. Up top, Alex Kerr will partner with one of the highly ranked freshmen, and I will just go with the rankings and pick Hillary Schroeder. Right mid and the two forward spots are the only places I would expect any changes unless there is an injury. I will pass along the starting lineup as it comes available.

This tune-up match is a good chance to try some different combinations in live action, but the chance to test fitness is also important. Along with needing to put someone in Hopkins’s spot on the field, the way her teammates react to not having her up top will be something to watch. Do Elwell, Kelley, and Brighton alter their game slightly to try and provide more goal scoring, or do they, at least initially, keep the style roughly the same and trust the replacement to convert the opportunities they so plentifully create? The halftime adjustments will also be something on which I focus. Do not be surprised or think it says anything about Devine, or whoever starts in goal, if they are replaced at halftime. In 2019, Coach Ambrose alternated Lauren Demarchi and Taiana Tolleson at halftime of nearly every contest, even into the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

Tonight’s match starts at 7 PM but will not be streamed. Fans are allowed to attend. I will be at the match and provide some updates. It will not be play-by-play by any stretch of the imagination. The news will likely be limited to goals, halftime, fulltime, and just some random notes. Feel free to leave questions below if there is something you are wondering about regarding the team or have something you want me to focus on during the match.