Vanderbilt Soccer beats Alabama for ninth-straight win in gutsy performance

Vanderbilt+Women%27s+Soccer+team+beats+Alabama+at+home%2C+3-2.+Sep+20%2C+2018.+Photo+by+Madison+Lindeman.

Vanderbilt Women's Soccer team beats Alabama at home, 3-2. Sep 20, 2018. Photo by Madison Lindeman.

Ben Seltzer

The Vanderbilt Commodores Women’s Soccer team fought a feisty Alabama Crimson Tide squad to a thrilling 3-2 victory on Thursday night at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex.

The two teams traded goals in the second half, including dueling goals just 30 seconds apart from Vanderbilt’s Haley Hopkins and Alabama’s Emma Welch. Hopkins’ second goal of the night with less than seven minutes remaining sealed the win in a tight, back-and-forth game.

Alabama outshot Vanderbilt 11 to seven, forcing the Commodore goalkeepers to make seven saves on the night. The Commodores’ resilience was on full display all night long.

“This group is special,” head coach Darren Ambrose said. “There’s something about them, they don’t know when to quit, they’re never beaten.”

With the win, the Commodores extend their winning streak to nine games, the longest since 2005. They are now within two games of tying a school record of 11 consecutive wins.

Junior Lauren DeMarchi got the start in goal, and made her impact known quickly with a marvelous save in the first few minutes of action. The combination of DeMarchi and fellow goalkeeper Taiana Tolleson has been spectacular this season, allowing only four goals over the first nine games of the season. The pair has been a major reason for Vanderbilt’s success, and Thursday was no different.

Early on, both teams were aggressive, with possession slightly leaning Vanderbilt’s way. The ball stayed mainly in Alabama territory, but the Crimson Tide were opportunistic in their possession, occasionally breaking through Vanderbilt’s front and advancing on goal.

By the halfway point of the first half of action, the game leveled off, with both teams making strong efforts, but nether registering a shot from 11:26 to 24:44 of the first half.

A foul and yellow card to Alabama inspired the Vanderbilt offense midway through the half. Leila Azari set up the team’s leading scorer in Hopkins with a beautiful cross, but Hopkins was unable to convert.

As the half drew to a close, Alabama’s offense took control, dominating possession over the last 10 minutes of the half, but did not manage to take a shot on goal.

Vanderbilt was able to find the opening goal against the run of play with minutes remaining in the half. Olivia Simmons made a great run to take the ball away from an Alabama defender and placed a perfect shot to the bottom corner of the goal.

In the second half, Tolleson took over for DeMarchi in goal, and made an absolutely incredible save off the crossbar just two and a half minutes into the half, preserving Vanderbilt’s lead.

Tolleson’s dive across the penalty box was the most spectacular play of the game, and “changed the course of the game,” said head coach Darren Ambrose after the match.

The Crimson Tide were relentless, though, and their rose to the challenge of getting the ball past Tolleson, and just kept hammering the ball on goal until they finally scored an equalizer off the boot of Casey Wurtz, her sixth of the season.

Tied now at 1-1, Alabama continued their assault, keeping possession in their favor by a wide margin and controlling the game. Their passing in the second half was nearly perfect, almost never turning the ball over.

Vanderbilt’s touch, however, began to betray them in the second half, misfiring on several passes, and losing possession as soon as they seemed to have a chance.

Despite that, Vanderbilt was opportunistic with their chances yet again. After running down a long pass, Haley Hopkins put the moves on Alabama’s goalkeeper at the top of the box, and put the ball in the back of the net to give Vanderbilt a 2-1 lead with 19 minutes remaining.

The Commodores only had a brief moment of celebration, however, as Alabama’s Emma Welch answered with a goal of her own just 30 seconds later after a tough deflection off of Tolleson in front of the goal.

The anxious Vanderbilt crowd was rewarded yet again when Hopkins once again played the hero, scoring on a beautiful cross from Azari with under seven minutes remaining.

The Commodores took the lead, and this time, it was for good. Despite a feisty Alabama effort to end the match, Tolleson and Vanderbilt held on to get their second win in conference play, and extend their win streak to nine games.

Hopkins gave a lot of credit to her teammates after the win.

“Olivia Simmons really opened up the game with her first goal,” she said. “And I think that really created the momentum for us.”

Despite the positive outcome, Ambrose was less than pleased with the overall effort.

“We played right into them,” he said, “I feel that their kids executed their gameplan better than we did ours for the majority of the game. We didn’t play to our potential.”

All in all, it was an exciting game that had the Commodores come out on top, with their star player taking the game into her own hands.

Vanderbilt hits the road to take on Missouri this Sunday as the Commodores try to make it 10 straight victories.