The Commodores held on for a 1-0 victory against No. 5 seed Tennessee in the SEC tournament quarterfinal, advancing to a semifinal rematch against No. 8 seed Arkansas.
Stephanie Amack sunk a penalty kick in the 50th minute to give the Commodores the lead. The kick was set up by contact in the box involving Commodore outside back Myra Konte and a Tennessee defender. That was all that Vanderbilt needed, as the Commodores, backed by redshirt senior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Fahrner’s six saves, achieved their sixth shutout of the season.
The game was a rematch of a 2-1 Vanderbilt victory just two weeks ago. There was a feeling of déjà vu for the Volunteers, as the first goal scored in their previous matchup was also an Amack penalty kick set up by a foul drawn by Konte.
The first half was dominated by Tennessee. The Volunteers directed the pace of the game, controlling possession and pinning Vanderbilt to their defensive half. They were helped by numerous unforced turnovers by the Commodores, who struggled to keep the ball.
Tennessee had a myriad of opportunities to take the early lead in the first twenty minutes. The first of these came in the 11th minute, when Tennessee’s Mary Alice Vignova sent a ball into the six-yard box that deflected off the foot of Khadija Shaw, glanced off the far post and across the face of the goal. In the 15th minute, Tennessee forward Meghan Flynn drove the ball into two Vanderbilt defenders before launching a 20-yard strike into the far post that forced Fahrner to dive for a fingertip save.
Vanderbilt rarely saw the attacking third of the field in the first half, taking only one shot compared to Tennessee’s ten.
“In the first half—we know it, the girls know it— we weren’t very good,” head coach Darren Ambrose told VUCommodores.com. “I think we were just a little bit nervous, a bit overwhelmed. Tennessee is a great team, they are a very, very good team. We talked at halftime that if we can just be a little bit better, we can make this a game and it is only going to take one goal.”
That one goal came early in the second half. In the 50th minute, outside back Myra Konte drove the ball into a defender deep into the 18-yard box. The two players’ legs entangled as the defender went in for the tackle, drawing the referee’s whistle and earning a penalty kick for the Commodores. Stephanie Amack, just as she did two weeks earlier, coolly struck the penalty kick into the right side netting.
The goal was the result of a halftime adjustment to focus on switching the point of attack to the outside defenders.
“We’re better when we get our outside backs going forward,” Ambrose said. “We needed Lydia Simmons and Grace Jackson to get on the ball and switch the ball side to side. Ninety seconds into the first half, we do it, and Myra gets into the box and, fair enough, it was a penalty.”
“When we do those things, when we switch the ball, we can play. We didn’t do it in the first half. We did it in the second, and I thought it was a much more even game in the second half.”
Following the goal, Tennessee continued to put pressure on the Vanderbilt defense, pushing numbers forward and keeping the ball in the attacking third. Tennessee came very close to an equalizer at many points, including a shot that nailed the crossbar and another far post strike that forced a fingertip save from Fahrner.
The Vanderbilt defense bent but didn’t break, and the Commodores went on to secure the 1-0 win and a spot in the SEC Tournament Semifinals.
“Everyone did their job, and that’s we talked about,” Ambrose said.”Be responsible for what you’re supposed to do. And they’ve done it. I mean, what more can you ask of them?”
This is Vanderbilt’s first SEC Semifinal appearance since 2005. The Commodores will take on the No. 8 seed Arkansas Razorbacks on Thursday at 3:30 CST on SEC Network. This will be a rematch of Vanderbilt’s scoreless draw against Arkansas in the regular season.