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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt soccer loses overtime heartbreaker to Memphis 3-2

Vanderbilt, down 2-0 with less than 15 minutes to go in regulation, charged back behind the play of Haley Hopkins, only to fall short in overtime.
Vanderbilt soccer falls in its final game of the spring season to Memphis. (Twitter/@VandySoccer)

In their spring season finale, the No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores played host to the 6-1 No. 17 Memphis Tigers in an absolute thriller. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday with a 6 p.m. kick-off, but severe weather in the area forced the game to be postponed to Sunday. 

The meeting was the first between the two programs since 2014 and the seventh all-time with Vanderbilt holding the 4-2 series advantage. The Commodores last played 16 days ago, a 3-1 victory over Kennesaw State at home to improve to 3-0 on the short spring season. Normally, the spring season is saved for friendlies but due to COVID-19, the NCAA moved the NCAA Tournament to the spring, meaning a few regular season games were scheduled during this time.

Vanderbilt has already secured an NCAA Tournament bid with its championship in the SEC Tournament in the fall while Memphis will look to take the American Athletic Conference (AAC) automatic bid with a win in the 4-team AAC tournament later this season. 

In the first half, Vanderbilt created a number of chances in the early minutes, drawing free kicks and corners, but the team could not convert. 

Seniors Maddie Elwell and Kayla Eason were the engines for the Commodores, setting up those chances with precise passing and crafty through balls. In the 20th minute, Eason sent a lofted through ball over the head of the last Memphis defender directly to the feet of senior attacker Haley Hopkins, but it was not to be as Memphis’s goalkeeper ended the opportunity with a quick charge from goal. 

“I thought [Eason] played like a captain, a senior captain,” head coach Darren Ambrose said. “I thought she played with heart, with composure. She was absolutely enormous for us today. ”

Ambrose also praised Maddie Elwell’s ability to bring poise to the offense when they needed it most.

“She’s the same game in and game out. She just patrolled the sideline,” he said.

In the 25th minute, starting senior left-back Myra Konte, the 30th overall pick to the National Women’s Soccer League’s North Carolina Courage, went down near midfield, pounding her fist against the turf in anger. The loss required Vanderbilt to replace Konte with freshman defender Mya Swinton and change up its formation. 

“I thought we did what we were supposed to do,” Ambrose said. “I thought we adjusted as best we could in the moment.”

As for Swinton, Ambrose pointed to her maturity and the lessons she can take away from her experience playing against a top-20 team in Memphis. 

For the ensuing minutes after the injury, it appeared Memphis had taken advantage of the Commodores’ tactical change with chances of its own. An on-target free kick was denied by an athletic punch from goalkeeper Sarah Fuller to force a corner kick, which Vanderbilt also defended successfully. 

Later in the half, Hopkins broke free off a lofted through ball, snaking past a defender for a one-on-one opportunity with the keeper. However, Hopkins’ finesse shot landed right in the arms of Memphis keeper Elizabeth Moberg. Hopkins’ shot was also Vanderbilt’s first shot on goal of the game. Despite Vanderbilt’s many chances created, the Commodores trailed in  shots on goal in the first half 4-1, and the two teams entered the locker room knotted at zero.

However, in the second half, the goals came quickly and often. 

It was Memphis who first broke the seal on the scoreless tie in the 61st minute. A Memphis cross from the right sideline by midfielder Tanya Boychuk was punched away by Sarah Fuller only to end up on the left foot of fellow midfielder Mya Jones, who converted with ease to give Memphis the lead. 

Vanderbilt clearly missed the stability and presence of defensive anchor Ella Shamburger, who was out due to illness but had started 55 straight games prior in her Vanderbilt career. Due to her absence, Vanderbilt had to rehash its entire system 60 minutes before gametime. 

“We made adjustments during the course of the game and at halftime,” Ambrose said. 

Memphis was able to expand the lead to two after a corner launched into the box bounced around like a pinball in front of net until it was converted by Memphis defender Haylee Spray. 

It did not take long for Vanderbilt to cut back into the deficit, however. Three minutes later, a free kick by senior midfielder Leila Azari right into the box allowed Hopkins to use her physicality and size to head the ball into the bottom left corner to cut the lead to one.

Vanderbilt would not quit from there. 

In the 88th minute, Hopkins took on a Memphis defender, using her trademark one-on-one dribble moves and ability, and she delivered a beautiful ball from the right side of the goalie box to freshman midfielder Abi Brighton for a waist-high volley finish to tie the game at two.  

In the overtime period, Vanderbilt could not keep the momentum it established in the last minutes of the second half, as a decisive pass from Memphis’s Mya Jones across the box was finished by Tanya Boychuk to give the Tigers the golden goal and the victory. 

“There’s no quit in this team,” Ambrose said. “I am disappointed in the outcome, but I am so proud of how they stuck at it. There’s so much fight in them, and I could not ask anymore of them.”

Vanderbilt will look to rebound on April 11 when it faces the Duke Blue Devils in Durham, N.C., for its final game of its spring season before the NCAA Tournament starts at the end of April. 

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About the Contributor
Bobby Kent
Bobby Kent, Former Senior Staff Writer
Bobby Kent (’23) was a Senior Staff Writer for The Hustler Sports section, having been on staff since his first semester at Vanderbilt. Bobby was also the Sports Director for VandyRadio, co-host of Kent and Coad, a weekly sports talk show on VandyRadio and the host of VU Sports Wired, a Vanderbilt Video Productions and Hustler Sports Television show. Bobby previously interned at CNN Sports where he assisted in producing studio shows, writing anchor scripts and creating fullscreen graphics. He also wrote an article about Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo for that was a top 5 story for digital. He was an economics major in the College of Arts and Science with a minor in business. Bobby has been a dedicated sports fan ever since he was little and loves to track the decisions made by front offices, players and coaches. Bobby hopes to one day have a career in the business of professional sports either in sports media or with a professional sports organization. When not writing articles, providing opinions about Vanderbilt sports on TV or serving hot takes in the radio studio, Bobby can be found watching his beloved Philadelphia sports teams and watching the Eagles fly. He can be reached at [email protected].    
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