Vanderbilt Soccer humble yet confident going into SEC Tournament

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Vanderbilt Soccer humble yet confident going into SEC Tournament

Photo by Hannah Haecker

Photo by Hannah Haecker

Photo by Hannah Haecker

Photo by Hannah Haecker

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

After a magical run through the regular season that culminated in an SEC regular season title, the Vanderbilt Commodores now head to Orange Beach, Alabama for the SEC Soccer Tournament.

The team enters the tournament as the top seed, but with some hunger after dropping their regular season finale 1-0 on the road at Ole Miss last Thursday. It was the team’s only SEC loss of the season, and it seemed to light a fire under the team.

“Losing to Ole Miss really put our whole team in its place,” senior midfielder Jackie Welch said. “We were bound to lose at some point this season and it shows that if we can’t finish things in the final third then there is absolutely no way to win. It also reminds us that every single team we play is competitive and we have to show up having that mindset every game and every practice if we want to beat them.”

Vanderbilt put up a whopping 17 shots against Ole Miss despite not finding the back of the net for just the third time all season. The Commodores saw a number of grade-A chances ring off the post or fall into the arms of the goalkeeper.

With a strong team like the Florida Gators up first in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday, the Commodores know they have to be more clinical in their attack.

“Having 17 shots tells us that we are putting ourselves in a good position to score a goal, however, we failed to do so against Ole Miss,” midfielder Grace Jackson said. “It gives us confidence that we can get into the final third, but we just have to do a better job of making all those chances count which we plan to do in the tournament.”

Vanderbilt has a reason to be confident moving forward, especially after numerous Commodores earned accolades from the SEC. Head coach Darren Ambrose was named SEC Coach of the Year, and redshirt freshman forward Haley Hopkins was named SEC Freshman of the Year.

On top of that, Hopkins and Jackson were named to the All-SEC First Team, and defender Nia Dorsey was named to the All-SEC Second Team. Defender Ella Shamburger joined Hopkins on the All-Freshman team.

Even with plenty of star power on the team, the Commodores are also looking to take their game to a new level in the postseason.

“There are little things in the mix of the game that we forget about that we have practiced what seems like hundreds of times,” Welch said. “Those are the things that are important in post season.”

“Secondly, our team needs to adapt faster on the go. We all have in our mind to do exactly what we scouted or practiced the week up until the game but really there’s no telling how the games actually going to play out. If we said to look for long balls over the top but they are defending so far off our offensive line, then we need to be able to see that mid game and play through the middle and connect. I think this is really important for our team’s success.”

Thanks to seeding, Vanderbilt has earned a relatively favorable draw in the SEC Tournament. The three other ranked SEC programs in South Carolina, Texas A&M and Tennessee are all on the other side of the bracket, meaning Vanderbilt wouldn’t have to face one of those teams until the championship game.

In addition, Vanderbilt has faced their first opponent, Florida, once before the season, winning 2-1 in Gainesville. The only team in Vanderbilt’s half of the bracket that the team hasn’t faced is Arkansas.

The familiarity with their opponents can be both a blessing and a curse for the Commodores.

“Familiarity can sometimes be beneficial, but that also means they’re familiar with our style of play as well,” Welch said. “It’s going to come down to a battle and who fights more- what team is winning 50/50’s, what team is switching the ball through mid field, who is making tackles.”

Entering the postseason, all of the rankings and standings watches now go by the wayside. Every game from here on out will be do-or-die. The margin of error will get slimmer and slimmer.

Vanderbilt knows that it can’t cost if it wants to make a run in the tournament.

“At the point of post season, we all pretty much know every face on the field and what type of player we are so it comes down to heart and grit more than anything,” Welch said.

The Commodores open SEC Tournament play against the Florida Gators on Tuesday at 5:00 PM CT. Coverage can be found on the SEC Network.

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