The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

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

Everything You Need to Know About This Week’s SEC Soccer Tournament

After a wild 10-game season the top 10 teams in the SEC converge on Orange Beach, Alabama, to crown a conference champion.
Barrie Barto
Vanderbilt soccer competes against Alabama on Sept. 26, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

After a regular season that saw the Vanderbilt Commodores amass an 8-8-1 record, with a 5-4-1 record in the SEC, head coach Darren Ambrose’s team is set for the SEC Tournament this week in Orange Beach, Alabama. The tournament starts this Sunday, Oct. 31, and concludes on Nov. 7. Given the  myriad of storylines, and opportunity for the Commodores to win for a  second consecutive year, it’s sure to be a fascinating tournament;here’s everything you need to know before it starts.

The Format

The top 10 teams in the SEC qualified for the tournament. They will play in a four-round tournament, with the 7, 8, 9 and 10 seeds opening up play on Sunday with play-in games. The quarterfinals are scheduled for Tuesday, followed by the semifinals on Thursday. The tournament concludes on Nov. 7 with a 1 p.m. CDT final.

Who’s Playing

The 10 teams that qualified, in order of seeding, were Arkansas (27 points), Tennessee (24), Ole Miss (19), South Carolina (19), Auburn (16), Alabama (16), Vanderbilt (16), Georgia (14), LSU (12) and Florida (10).

Arkansas, the No. 1 seed and pre-tournament favorite, is ranked No. 4 by the United Soccer Coaches poll. The Razorbacks are 14-3-0 on the season, losing only twice all season to No. 7 North Carolina and No. 2 Duke before falling 4-2 in their season finale against LSU. They flourished behind a stellar defense that allowed just 0.9 goals per game in SEC Play. The Razorbacks will look to rebound after four consecutive runner-up finishes in this tournament.

Second-seeded Tennessee is ranked No. 12 nationally, and went 8-2 in conference play, losing away games to Arkansas and Vanderbilt. Senior Mackenzie George has led the way for them in SEC play, scoring four goals and assisting five more. The Volunteer defense has also been solid, holding opponents to just one goal per game.

Third-seeded Ole Miss was putting together a terrific season before failing to win their final three games and finishing with an 11-4-3 record. They will have to re-find their midseason form to compete in this tournament, and will have to continue to be clinical in and around the box. In SEC play, the Rebels had a +4 goal differential despite recording more than 20 fewer shots than their opponents. 

South Carolina, the fourth seed in the tournament, is unranked. They are 2-3-1 in their last six games. However, those two wins were their two final games of the season, a 4-0 win over sixth-seeded Alabama and a 2-1 win in the season finale against Florida. If they can keep up their form and their offense does not go flat like it has at times throughout the season, they can compete with anyone and really threaten the top teams in the conference. 

The fifth seed in the tournament, Auburn, enters the weekend in nearly the reverse form of their quarterfinal opponent South Carolina. They are 3-2-1 in their last six, but have failed to win their last three games, albeit against three of the top six seeds. They lost 3-2 to South Carolina on Oct. 1, coming just short of a comeback after falling down 3-0 in the first 47 minutes. Their quarterfinal rematch will certainly be one to watch.

Alabama, the last of the teams with a first-round bye, won their final game 1-0 over Auburn to push Vanderbilt into the play-in games, despite the fact that they both finished the conference season with 16 points. After losing their first two games in SEC play, the Crimson Tide bounced back strongly and showed they could compete with anyone in the conference. Their lack of offense could be an issue, as they averaged a measly one goal per game in SEC play, and failed to score three goals in an SEC game all season, but this week could always be the week they figure it out.

Vanderbilt, the seventh-seeded defending SEC champions, has been one of the top defensive teams in the league, conceding multiple goals in a game just once. The Commodores have a goal differential of +9 in SEC play, yet they had a 5-4-1 record after losing three games by a score of 1-0. This type of play, however, sets up very well for a high-pressure conference tournament. They can have confidence in their defending and feel secure defending any leads they come across. Holding the high-octane Arkansas attack scoreless in regulation two weeks ago is indicative of how dangerous this team is and how poised they could be to make another run. They will undoubtedly be a team Tennessee will not be excited to face should Vanderbilt beat Florida in the play-in game. 

Georgia looked to be in position for a first-round bye before losing their final two games to Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Against Vanderbilt, they conceded in the 88th minute to lose 2-1. They have been right in the middle of the pack in the SEC, not losing a game to a team seeded below them, but not beating a team seeded higher. They will need to continue this trend against an LSU team that they beat 2-1 during the regular season to have the opportunity to knock off the top-ranked Arkansas squad.  

After winning their opener against Mississippi State and being ranked as high as fifth nationally, LSU lost six consecutive SEC games, scoring just twice. Their tournament hopes looked bleak as two of their final three games were against top-seeded Arkansas and fourth-seeded South Carolina. They ended up beating South Carolina 4-0 before upsetting Arkansas 4-2 in a game they had to win to qualify. Despite a lackluster season, they have shown that they are a dangerous team, and could be poised for a rematch with Arkansas should they beat Georgia in their first-round game.

Tenth-seeded Florida emerged out of a three-way tie for 10th place in the SEC at 10 points. They lost six of their last seven games as their defense struggled mightily, conceding multiple goals in five of those contests. Despite this, they showed a flash of potential in their penultimate game, a 4-0 rout of ninth-seeded LSU. They also played Vanderbilt to a 0-0 draw in their season opener. One of the special things about the SEC Tournament is that any team truly can win four soccer games in a row. Florida may not be the best team in this tournament, but they are four solid performances away from an SEC title.

The Stakes

Obviously, there is the pride that comes with winning an SEC championship, and that will be the  main focus of the players and coaches this week. However, there will also be some major storylines with regards to the Women’s College Cup, the 64-team national championship tournament that represents the highest achievement for a team in college soccer. 

The past two years, five SEC teams have qualified. Some teams, likely Arkansas, Tennessee and perhaps Ole Miss, have basically secured their spots in the tournament field through quality regular seasons. But a number of other teams will need strong tournaments to make their case. The winner of South Carolina and Auburn will make a statement about their chances, while teams like Alabama and Vanderbilt could use an upset over a top-three SEC team to bolster their chances. 

Finally, the bottom dwellers such as Florida, Georgia and LSU, may need the automatic qualification that comes with winning the tournament to earn their spot.

The Potential Vanderbilt Schedule:

10/31 – 1 p.m. CDT vs Florida

11/2 – 12 p.m. CDT vs UTK

11/4 – 7:30 p.m. CDT vs winner of Alabama/Ole Miss

11/7 – 1 p.m. Tournament Final

The Commodores kick off the tournament in a game that will be televised on SEC Network.

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About the Contributors
Hunter Lee, Former Staff Writer
Hunter Lee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science studying economics. You can reach him at [email protected].    
Barrie Barto, Photography Director
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with minors in communication of science & technology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as a staff photographer. Outside of The Hustler, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
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