The Commodores went to Clemson, South Carolina, and they left with a victory to start the NCAA Tournament. Coach Ambrose was suspended for the match due to his understandably angry reaction to the penalty kick Alabama was awarded with 38 seconds to play in the SEC Tournament semifinal. Associate Head Coach Ken Masuhr took the helm for the day. Masuhr has coached under Ambrose since joining him at Penn in 2011. The AHC, then just an assistant coach, followed his head coach from Penn to Vanderbilt when Ambrose took the head spot with Commodores in 2015. This match was his second as acting head coach and was Masuhr’s second win in the role, after topping Missouri 5-3 in 2017.
At first glance, it looks like Vanderbilt was content to hold the ball in midfield, even if it meant doing so just inside their own half. They had more possession but were outshot 9 to 7. Shots on goal were even more lopsided with the hosts holding a 7 to 3 advantage in that category. However, some context is necessary. Peyton Cutshall gave Vanderbilt a 1-0 lead in the 61st minute, and the game changed drastically as Vanderbilt sat back to play a theoretically safer game while Clemson rushed forward. The 1st Half stats are much different.
After the first 45, the Commodores had more shots (3 to 2) and shots on goal (2 to 1) than the Tigers. Vanderbilt’s possession was still largely in the midfield, but they got across the center line much more often. The split in the first half was also 60-40 in Vanderbilt’s favor.
Cutshall scored for the third straight match and for the fourth time in five contests. The target forward had only scored once (LSU) all season before the recent hot streak. She has been an aerial menace with two goals from heading corner kicks. Both of those corners were delivered by Abi Brighton. The precision of the balls played in to Cutshall have been key to converting the chances, and set pieces are the great equalizer for teams that may not have a marquee goal scorer.
Sara Wojdelko was close to perfect in this one. Her play has grown tremendously as the regular season rolled into the postseason. Kate Devine’s availability remains unknown, but it may not matter with the way her backup is playing. As someone who was adamant Devine belonged as the unquestioned starter, Wojdelko has done enough to blur that line enough that I do not think you go away from the hot hand.
This evening’s opponent is Northwestern who are 15-4-2 (7-2-1) on the season. They finished second in the B1G and fell 2-0 to Penn State in the B1G Tournament after knocking off the 7-seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the opening round. Their first-round match in the NCAA Tournament against Southern Illinous University-Edwardsville was a re-match from early in the regular season. After winning 5-0 in the first meeting, NU was cordial enough to only win 3-0 in the tournament. The Wildcats have scored 42 times in 21 matches while conceding only 15 times. Their attack is led by Josie Aulicino who has 8 goals and 9 assists, which top the team in both categories. The danger is the number of players who can hurt you. Meg Boade (7G 2 A), Aurea del Carmen (6G 5A), Rowan Lapi (6G 3A), and Ella Hase (4G 7A) bring a lot of options to the attack. All of them must be accounted for when on the pitch.
In goal, Northwestern has split the starts between Mia Raben (10) and Reiley Fitzpatrick (11). Raben has played in 21 matches this year while Fitzpatrick has not played when she did not start. It will likely be Raben since she started the First Round match with SIUE. On the season, she has allowed 11 goals on 61 shots on goal. Raben has recorded 3 clean sheets and been the keeper of record for 9 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw.
Tonight’s match kicks off at 6 PM CST from Wallis Annenberg Stadium, the home of the UCLA Bruins, in Los Angeles, California. UCLA is the #1 seed in this quadrant of the NCAA Tournament and hosts Rounds 2 and 3. The winner of Vanderbilt/Northwestern will play the winner of UCLA/UCF on Sunday at 8 PM CST. The action can be streamed on ESPN+, as can all of the NCAA Tournament action today. Unfortunately, the match kicks off at the same time as the MBB team tips off, so I will be watching via my phone from inside Memorial Gymnasium.