Vanderbilt’s stay in Pensacola ended in anger and frustration when a dubious penalty decision granted Alabama a chance from 12 yards out with only 38 seconds to go in a match tied 1-1. The winner went to the SEC Tournament Final. The loser would go home. Riley Mattingly Parker converted.
Yes, Alabama was the better team for 55 minutes. Vanderbilt did have a 25-minute period of dominance to end the first half, but it was the only time they were definitively the better team. It was a good contest. Alabama was not able to completely cave in the Commodores except for a few 5- or 10-minute stretches, but the Commodores were scrapping to keep the game even with the #3 team in the country.
Spending 37 minutes on the ball in your opponent’s half is a good way to win. Having an 18 to 3 shots advantage is a good way to win. Having 7 shots on goal while only allowing 3 is a good way to win. Alabama did a lot of things that made them deserving to win. Vanderbilt’s combined defensive effort kept the score tied while the attack did sniff a few chances but not a lot of substance. With all of that said, the final call will stick in the minds of fans and players, but the players need to move on because everything is still in front of this team.
Sara Wojdelko was outstanding again and gave her teammates a chance by keeping them in the game when called upon to make a save. There were a lot of good performances, especially on only 2 days rest after going to PKs against Arkansas. Peyton Cutshall scoring again, this time to give Vanderbilt an early lead, is fantastic to see for the graduate student. She does a lot for the attack with her holdup play and aerial threat, so when she starts scoring, a lot of other options can find space. They did for 25 minutes against one of the best teams in the country, too. For players and coaches, they should be focused on what they did well during that stretch and other smaller periods of success. Finding the differences in those moments will be key to extending the season day by day.
The Commodores have traveled to Clemson, South Carolina, for their first-round match in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers have not played since October 27th due to the ACC Tournament only consisting of 6 teams from the 14-team conference. Clemson did not participate as the 8th place finisher in the conference standings. Clemson was 8-4-5 (4-3-3) during the regular season. The hosts are ranked #25 in the Coaches Poll.
Clemson has played a few low event matches with 3 scoreless draws and a one-goal win. However, they have also been part of a 5-1 win over Campbell, a 6-0 win over Western Carolina, and a 1-4 loss at Wake Forest. The Tigers website does not offer conference vs nonconference statistics, so I must go by their full-season contributions. The scoring comes from everywhere. Caroline Conti and Renee Lyles lead the team with 4 goals scored while assisting on 5 (team lead also) and 3 more goals, respectively. Then 6 Tigers sit at 3 goals. That club consists of Makenna Morris, Maliah Morris, Sydney Minarik, Hal Hershfelt, Samantha Meridith, and Emily Brough. Maria Manousos (2) and Megan Bornkamp (1) round out the attacking contributions.
Clemson is backstopped by Halle Mackiewicz. The 4th year Junior has started all 17 matches and played all but 40:39 between the sticks. She has saved 57 of the 85 shots on goal faced this season. Her 1.09 Goals Against Average has been a big part of Clemson’s success due to 7 solo clean sheets and 1 combined shutout. The Clemson defense as a whole is streaky, having allowed only 18 goals in 17 matches but have allowed 3+ goals 3 times. Alabama beat them 3-0 in Tuscaloosa. Wake Forest won 4-1 in Winston-Salem. Florida State won 3-1 in Tallahassee. The common denominator is road contests, so it will be interesting to see if Vanderbilt can crack the code in Clemson.
Today’s match kicks off at 2 PM CT at Clemson’s 6,500-seat Riggs Field. The early afternoon kickoff could have inclement weather to keep the crowd limited. I am not sure that benefits either side because an empty stadium with no energy can be worse for both teams than a raucous environment. Home players love having their fans behind them, but Vanderbilt has some personalities that enjoy the villain role a bit. The match, like all the First Round, will be streamed on ESPN+.