Vanderbilt Soccer clinches SEC regular season title with 4-1 win over Kentucky


Photo by Shun Ahmed

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

Vanderbilt Soccer finally has a title to match its magical run this season: SEC regular season champions.

The 12th-ranked Commodores took down Kentucky 4-1 on Senior Day to clinch the program’s first SEC regular season title since 1994. Vanderbilt has gone 8-0-1 in SEC play with one more game remaining and has not lost a game since the season opener against Florida State back in August.

“I’m actually speechless,” head coach Darren Ambrose said. “This group of kids is so special. Winning obviously highlights that because everyone pays attention to them, but the reason they won is because of the relationships that they have between them. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m really proud of all of them.”

Vanderbilt Women’s Soccer beats Kentucky to clinch the SEC. October 21, 2018. Photo by Madison Lindeman

On a day to honor three seniors, Brook Colangelo, Jackie Welch and Gabrielle Rademaker, that have seen the program rise from the ashes to become a budding SEC powerhouse in Ambrose’s tenure, winning the regular season title was the realization of lots of hard work over the last few years.

“I don’t cry much and I bawled like a little baby because everyone is so passionate and has so much heart for this team,” Rademaker said. “We worked so hard, so it’s hard not to get emotional because it’s not luck. It’s hard work and that’s what we did.”

Vanderbilt got the scoring started early with a goal from Grace Jackson off a set piece opportunity to make it 1-0. Jackson has scored in two straight games after burying a penalty kick at Auburn on Thursday. Later in the half, Vanderbilt found the back of the net again off a beautiful feed from Haley Hopkins to Kaylann Boyd in front of the net to go up 2-0 at halftime.

Vanderbilt Women’s Soccer beats Kentucky to clinch the SEC. October 21, 2018. Photo by Madison Lindeman

Kentucky, who was eliminated from SEC Tournament contention earlier this week, came out with a vengeance in the second half and scored a long-range goal off the foot of Gretchen Mills in the opening minutes to cut the Commodore lead to 2-1. But, the celebration for the Wildcats was short-lived as Vanderbilt set up a ball in front just a few minutes later, leading to an own goal to make it 3-1 Commodores.

As Vanderbilt has done all season, the team responded in kind after conceding a goal and answered with a goal of their own. Vanderbilt has only allowed two unanswered goals all season long.

“We knew at halftime that Kentucky weren’t going to lighten up,” Ambrose said. “I don’t care what their record is. They’re a good team and they have some good players. We said at halftime that they were going to come, and I think our kids were a little flat-footed and we looked a little heavy-legged and I was starting to wonder if we were going to fight through it. Then again, they just find a way, right? And they found an answer again and once that third goal went in, I thought ‘Well, that’s it. We’re going to be okay.’ That’s what they have done all year.”

Hopkins added one more for good measure late in the game off a feed from Boyd, giving the redshirt freshman forward a pair of assists and a goal on the day. The pair of Hopkins and Boyd have combined for 20 of Vanderbilt’s goals this season.

Once the final whistle blew, Vanderbilt’s players poured onto the field to celebrate and got to break out championship shirts and hats. The team also doused head coach Darren Ambrose with water prior to his postgame interview with SEC Network.

Photo by Shun Ahmed

The Commodores have already accomplished a lot this season between breaking the program win streak record to entering the United Soccer Coaches Top 25 for the first time in over a decade. Ambrose has always made sure his team stayed level-headed and didn’t celebrate all too much.

This time, however, was different.

“I want to let them celebrate,” Ambrose said. “They deserve to and enjoy that this is special. This is magical. We will reconvene and we’ll set some different goals and we’ll stop talking about it come Tuesday. Right now, I just want to let them loose and let them enjoy everything about what this means.”

However, that doesn’t mean that their work is done. Vanderbilt will wrap up the regular season on the road at Ole Miss on Thursday before traveling to Orange Beach, Alabama for the SEC Tournament. The Commodores will be the #1 seed in the tournament as the team will get the chance to go for their first SEC Tournament trophy since 1994.

“We’re not finished here and we want even more,” Rademaker said. “This is just showing people that it’s not luck and the next thing is showing that we’re actually great and telling everyone who Vandy Soccer is.”

Vanderbilt Women’s Soccer beats Kentucky to clinch the SEC. October 21, 2018. Photo by Madison Lindeman