The Vanderbilt Commodores earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory over bitter rivals No. 11 Tennessee to get back to their winning ways.
Stephanie Amack converted a penalty kick in the first half before Paola Ellis got a header behind the keeper on the end of a Lydia Simmons free kick. The Volunteers got one back moments later thanks to a Rylie O’Keefe rebound goal.
The Commodores came into the game following consecutive 3-0 defeats to No. 9 Florida and No. 3 South Carolina. It would not get any easier with the visit from the Volunteers, who were ranked eleventh in the nation.
Tennessee had the second-best defense in the SEC behind South Carolina with just 10 goals allowed and nine shutouts. On the other end, they boasted the joint top scorer in the league, Khadija Shaw, who had already found the back of the net 13 times.
After conceding two goals in the opening ten minutes against South Carolina, the Commodores knew they needed to come out focused to start the game. Vanderbilt head coach Darren Ambrose spoke about his team’s start to the game in the post-match interview.
“We talked about in the first fifteen minutes: fast start, finish strong,” he said. “They were the things we talked about. And fast start doesn’t mean coming out at 300 miles and hour and scoring a goal. It means being mentally sharp.”
Tennessee had most of the possession inside the first ten minutes, but the Vanderbilt players maintained their shape and limited the Volunteers to just a tame shot by Paige Franks that was easily handled by Kaitlyn Fahrner, who returned in goal for the Commodores following an extended absence due to injury. Fahrner made six saves on the evening.
The complexion of the game would change in the twelfth minute as Shaw was forced off the field with the injury to be replaced by Danielle Marcano. Vanderbilt would go on the break after winning the ball in back in their own half but after being played through by Simone Charley, freshman forward Rebecca Rossett tried to loft the ball, which landed on the top netting.
The Commodores grew into the game, commanding more possession in their opposition’s half. With 15 minutes on the clock, Myra Konte was played through on the left channel. After losing the ball in the box, she put in a shift to win it back and was fouled after doing so, resulting in a penalty kick.
Graduate student Stephanie Amack stepped up to coolly slot the ball into the bottom left corner of the net to give the Commodores a 1-0 advantage.
Vanderbilt tried to build on their advantage, stringing together some passes and going on the front foot–much to the pleasure of Ambrose.
“In the first half, I thought we had them chasing us,” he said. “I thought we kept the ball as well as we have all year.”
However, the Volunteers were the more desperate team as they bombarded the Commodore box with five shots in the last ten minutes of the first half.
Marcano fired a couple of chances wide before McKinley Burkett fired a powerful shot at Fahrner, who stood her ground to make the save but the ball again fell to Burkett, whose second shot was blocked by centre back Christina De Zeeuw.
The Commodores held onto their 1-0 lead to go into halftime.
The Volunteers would resume their pressure at the start of the second half, pinning the Vanderbilt players to their own half.
Shaw was able to return to the game with 30 minutes to play and the Volunteers ramped up their pressure. A shot by Erin Gilroy that struck the post was the best of the chances they had in that stretch.
However, it was Vanderbilt who would score a second against the run of play. With 15 minutes left, a foul by Mackenzie Gouner in midfield, one of 27 total in the game, forced the referee to produce a second yellow card in the game.
Lydia Simmons took the resulting free kick and played a ball into the box. Tennessee goalkeeper Shae Yanez came for the ball but was beaten to it by Ellis, who got just enough contact with her head to send it into goal. It was the first goal in a Vanderbilt shirt for the freshman from Collierville, Tennessee.
The Volunteers would respond with a goal of their own just 90 seconds later. Khadija Shaw slipped a well weighted through ball for Burkett. Her shot forced a diving save from Fahrner, but the rebound fell to O’Keefe, who pulled one back for UT.
After that goal that put the game within reach, the Volunteers went all-out to grab an equalizer. It was a nervy ending to the game for the Commodores, who ate away at the clock whenever they got the ball and held on to get an important win over their rivals.
“Second half, obviously, they were gonna push hard. I thought we bent but we didn’t break,” said Ambrose.
The win takes Vanderbilt into fifth place in the SEC standings, level on points with fourth-place Tennessee. This was also the fourth win for the Commodores against a team ranked in the Top 20 under Ambrose.
“This has to become more normal and it will become more normal,” Ambrose said. “We said we are good enough, not to knock off a big team, but to play with them and show that we are that good.”
They won’t have to wait long to show they are good enough as they take on 14th-ranked Texas A&M on Sunday evening. After that, they return to Nashville to face Auburn for their final home game of the season on Senior Night next Thursday, October 26 at 8pm.