Vanderbilt Soccer preparing for tough games against Mississippi State and Tennessee


Claire Barnett

The Vanderbilt Soccer team plays UGA on Sunday, September 30, 2018. The Commodores won 5-0, extending their lengthy winning streak. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Max Schneider, Sports Editor

The Commodores stand at an historic threshold.

Following a jaw-dropping 5-0 victory over Georgia in front of an electric home crowd, Vanderbilt matched a school-best of 11 consecutive wins—a record which stood for over a decade. To put that into perspective, in 2005 (Vanderbilt’s first 11 game streak), President George W. Bush had just started his second term, Tom Brady won his third Super Bowl, Texas was the best team in college football, and Youtube was just introduced to the world.

For this team, each subsequent game is an opportunity to set the bar higher.

Vanderbilt Soccer has never seen over 11 straight wins and has not claimed an SEC title since 2006, but this season, the team looks fully capable of both.

This 2018 team is young and brimming with talent. Led by standout players Haley Hopkins, Kaylann Boyd, and Madison Elwell, Vanderbilt has outscored opponents 30-6 during this streak, securing five shutouts along the way. The explosive trifecta of Hopkins, Boyd, and Elwell supported by sophomore playmaker Leila Azari is a daunting task for any opposing team to handlea task made even harder when considering that Hopkins, Elwell, and Azari also account for 13 of the team’s 21 assists.

Each player offers a unique skill set that complements and magnifies eachother’s play. The success of the Vanderbilt front is no surprise to head coach Darren Ambrose.

“Elwell’s left foot ability is uncanny. Hopkins is a fiery competitor. She is angry when she doesn’t score. Boyd has excellent technique. They’re not all the same. They are so good at different things and the combination of those things which are so different make them very dangerous,” said Ambrose on this week’s Darren Ambrose Show on VandyRadio.

The Vanderbilt Soccer team plays UGA on Sunday, September 30, 2018. The Commodores won 5-0, extending their lengthy winning streak. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

The dynamic of pass and attack are pillars of this team, but set pieces are the Commodore’s specialty. Four of Vanderbilt’s five goals vs. Georgia came from set pieces as the team continued the trend of making the most of their corners and free kick opportunities. These are the situations coach Ambrose knows are crucial in controlling a match.

“We have consistent, dangerous, and accurate service. We know where we want to put it and we spend time on the details. Consistent service with speed and accuracy accompanied by players who can head the ball are key,” said Ambrose.

The team as a whole has displayed class, toughness, and determination on and off the field this season. The Commodores have had to deal with both opposing sides and the occasional murmur of skeptics. Many have watched in awe, but some have called the run “lucky.” However, according to coach Ambrose luck is the residue of design.

“My personal motto is that the harder you work the luckier you get,” he said. “The luck is in the detail. We ask our players to take care of their responsibilities then it may seem like she just happened to be there or that we got the right bounce, but in reality, she was there because that’s where she was supposed to be.”

The Vanderbilt Soccer team plays UGA on Sunday, September 30, 2018. The Commodores won 5-0, extending their lengthy winning streak. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Thus far, the team hasn’t seemed bothered by the noise at all. Moreover, it looks to be fueling the Commodores’ determination as they silence more and more doubters with each subsequent performance. Even in high pressure situations: Miami (2-1 win), Florida (2-1 win), and Alabama (3-2 win),  Vanderbilt has found ways to emerge with a win. This iteration of the Commodores seems to thrive in clutch situations. That clutch gene may be their greatest asset moving forward.

“That’s [chip on the shoulder] part of it, but I really believe they just enjoy competing. They enjoy their relationships, fighting it out, and competing in practice. There’s a competitive nature that’s starting to show,” said Ambrose.

Now ranked #19 in this week’s United Soccer Coaches poll, Vanderbilt is proving that it’s among the nation’s elite. The Commodores are the only SEC team still undefeated in conference play. While too soon to declare that they have arrived, each subsequent match is another opportunity to do just that. Vanderbilt will open the most challenging stretch of their schedule on Thursday against another ranked opponent in #25 Mississippi State.

After the home match on Thursday, the Commodores travel to Knoxville to take on ninth-ranked Tennessee on Sunday.

“Who would of said three years ago that a top 25 matchup in the SEC would be Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi State? You would of said Texas A&M, Auburn, or South Carolina. Those guys are still there but now you have two new programs venturing into that territory,” said Ambrose.

The SEC is stacked this year. #12 South Carolina, #9 Tennessee, and a tough Auburn team are among Vanderbilt’s list of remaining opponents. If the Commodores maintain this incredible level of play, fans may just be witnessing one of the most historic seasons in Vanderbilt Soccer.

“Do I think we’re more prepared to go through it than we were before? Yes,” said Ambrose.