Vanderbilt left it until late in their regular-season opener against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, scoring in the overtime period to win 1-0 on Friday night.
Sophomore Jackie Welch broke the deadlock just two minutes into overtime, heading in a cross by freshman Madison Elwell.
The opening minutes saw neither team able to settle in possession as the Golden Eagles pressed up the pitch with physical play. The lone shot on goal in the first half for Tennessee Tech came from midfielder Tina Marolt, who curled the ball in from a free kick on the right side of goal but saw it knocked away by an outstretched Kaitlyn Fahrner. The Commodores managed three shots but none of them forced a save from keeper Kari Naerdemann.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Darren Ambrose, in his third season with the Commodores, recognized Tennessee Tech’s stifling defense.
“To their credit, I thought they did a good job of making it very difficult,” he said. “They were very organized in their shape.”
In an otherwise uneventful first half, there were some inspired moments, like freshman Leila Azari’s clever backheel to Nia Dorsey to release her down the left wing. Ultimately, the chance was wasted with a miscued cross, one of many for the Commodores.
It was a tale of two halves for the Vanderbilt attack, with a couple of substitutes breathing life into their moves towards goal.
Ambrose made some changes to get his team to move more directly towards goal in the second half.
“We just talked about how to break the pressure, get the ball to the end line or get it behind the backline,” he said.
Freshman Madison Elwell, one of the players who came off the bench, was bright to start the period, directing most of the Commodores’ traffic to goal through the left flank. In fact, most of Vanderbilt’s 8 shots in the second half were headers that resulted from crosses supplied by wide players. Despite this service, the forwards were not able to convert, often heading wide or over the crossbar.
Ambrose, though, believes that their conversion rate will improve with time.
“Fifty percent fell to the young players, who I think panicked,” he said. “We’ve got to be far more efficient in converting the number of opportunities we had on goal. That’ll come with time, repetition. You can’t manufacture it right now. We just have to go through it.”
The improvement on the offensive end was not exclusively Vanderbilt’s, as the Golden Eagles took advantage of openings left by Commodores bombing forward in the second half. Though Vanderbilt’s central midfielders were good in possession, their work at the other end was not to the satisfaction of Coach Ambrose.
“We’ve got four midfield players, all of whom are attacking minded,” Ambrose said. “But we also have to have the discipline to sit in the middle of the field and create passes. When we do that, we’re a pretty good team.”
Neither team took advantage of the chances they created in the 90 minutes of regulation, sending the game into a sudden-death overtime period that would turn out to be short. Soon after kickoff, Elwell received the ball on the left wing and put in a cross to find Welch, who beat an onrushing Naerdemann to the ball and put it at the back of the net just two minutes into the period.
After a brief turnaround from tonight’s game, the Commodores travel to St. Louis to face the Bilikens on Sunday afternoon.