Vanderbilt Soccer’s SEC Tournament run ended on Thursday afternoon with a heartbreaking loss to No. 8 seed Arkansas.
The two evenly-matched teams played to a 1-1 tie that could not be broken in two overtime periods, and Arkansas outscored the Commodores 4-2 in penalty kicks.
Arkansas will advance to their second-straight SEC Championship game and are the first since 2012 to do so as one of the bottom four seeds in the conference. Vanderbilt now awaits Monday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show to see if their season will continue.
From early in the first half, it was clear that Arkansas’ set pieces would be a difference maker for the Razorbacks, who came into the match with four goals off of set pieces in their past four games.
The first score of the match would come as a result of an Arkansas set piece. Off a free kick in the 22nd minute, Arkansas freshman Parker Goins sent a screaming shot into the near post. Vanderbilt goalkeeper Kaitlyn Fahrner made the diving block, but Arkansas’ Kayla McKeon got to the rebound first and nailed it into the back of the net to give the Razorbacks the early lead.
The rest of the half, possession went back and forth between the two teams. But with less than ten minutes to go in the half, Vanderbilt began to control possession, as Arkansas stopped pressing and began dropping deeper into their own half. The Commodores slowed the pace of the game and kept the ball in their attacking half, waiting for the opportunity to penetrate.
This opportunity came with five minutes left in the half. Madison Elwell launched a ball over the top to the edge of the six-yard box on the far post. Wide open in the box, Kaylann Boyd headed the ball toward the near post. Arkansas keeper Jordan Harris deflected the shot, but Paola Ellis was there to clean up the rebound, tying the game just before halftime.
The goal was a combined effort from three Vanderbilt players— Elwell, Boyd, and Ellis— coming in off the bench. Bench players were the difference makers for the Commodores in Thursday’s game, as Vanderbilt took 21 total substitutions by the end of regulation.
The second half was mired with quality opportunities for both teams, neither of which could capitalize.
A close call for Arkansas came with ten minutes to go in regulation. The Razorbacks sent a ball over the top which got past Vanderbilt defender Nia Dorsey. Arkansas’ Taylor Malham was in a 1 v. 1 situation with the goalkeeper, but Fahrner was able to block the shot, keeping Vanderbilt’s hopes of advancing to the SEC title game alive.
As the clock winded down in regulation, the score would remain 1-1, sending the match into overtime for the first time in this SEC Tournament.
The first overtime period was all Arkansas. Arkansas’ set pieces would once again wreak havoc on the Commodores. The Razorbacks forced three straight corner kicks within two minutes, each the result of Vanderbilt’s inability to clear the ball out of danger.
The ball remained in Vanderbilt’s defending third for almost the entire first overtime period, with the Razorbacks pressing numbers forward and not allowing Vanderbilt to slow the pace down and possess. Despite keeping the Commodores on their heels, Arkansas could not put the winning goal into the back of the net.
The second overtime period saw more Vanderbilt possession. The Commodores had more opportunities to build their attack and control the pace. Vanderbilt’s best opportunity came in the 105th minute when, following a Lydia Simmons cross, senior Simone Charley sent a header just wide right of the net.
After 110 minutes of play, penalty kicks were needed to decide the match.
Up first for the Commodores, Boyd’s shot was blocked by the keeper. Stephanie Amack, who was three for three on penalty kicks going into the game, sent her shot off the left post and out of bounds. Arkansas sank all four of their shots and clinched their second straight SEC Championship appearance.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, head coach Darren Ambrose was pleased with his team’s performance.
“I thought over the 110 minutes that we played well enough to win, just couldn’t find the goal,” Ambrose told VUCommodores.com. “I am just thrilled to bits with the way we played, the way we defended, the resolve we have had and the toughness we have shown. It has been fantastic to see the team grow like that this year.”
Vanderbilt now awaits the results of Monday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show to see if they will continue their season. The Commodores are looking to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006.