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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.

Soccer Season Recap: Commodores improve throughout season despite early SEC Tournament exit

The Vanderbilt Commodores tied for fifth in the SEC standings and were eliminated Sunday in the first round of the SEC Tournament by Florida.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt soccer lost to Florida in penalty kicks on Sunday at the SEC Tournament. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Vanderbilt’s 2021 soccer season ended Sunday in Orange Beach, Alabama, with a first-round shootout loss to the Florida Gators. The Commodores held a 1-0 lead late in the game, but a Florida equalizer in the 89th minute forced overtime. Twenty minutes of overtime went by scoreless, and the Gators won the ensuing penalty shootout 4-3.

“We got a bad bounce, a little unfortunate. With 90 seconds to go, not managing the game at that point is a little disappointing,” head coach Darren Ambrose said of the finish. “But overall, a good, solid season, given some of the circumstances.”

The Commodores entered the season ranked No. 18 nationally following last season’s success and with a younger roster. Despite these expectations, Vanderbilt struggled out of the gate and was just 3-4-1 in their nonconference games at the start of the season. The Commodores won their season opener in overtime against Tennessee Tech, but followed it with a draw against Purdue and then two straight defeats to Western Kentucky and Duke

While struggling with nagging injuries, Vanderbilt’s form didn’t improve much at the start of September. The Commodores cruised past Southern Illinois, but subsequently suffered their worst defeat of the season, a mistake-riddled 4-1 game at home against Pepperdine

“The team’s going to have to make a choice. You’re either going to show up and fight and compete and show some heart or some passion or you’re going to have a long season,” Ambrose told The Hustler on Sep. 5.

The Commodores beat Lipscomb but lost their final nonconference game of the season at home against Middle Tennessee State. Vanderbilt’s SEC play started with a much stronger performance in a draw against Florida, which was followed by an away loss against South Carolina.

Vanderbilt went on its best run between the end of September and the start of October, a three-game win streak that included beating Alabama, Missouri and Kentucky by a combined score of 12-1. The run saw not only improved results, but an improvement in performances to the delight of Ambrose.

“We got better as the season went on in our performances, which is really what we talk about all the time. Are we improving individually? Are we improving as a team? And I think the answer to that was yes,” Ambrose said.

The Commodores had a mixed bag of results to conclude conference play, with all of their last six regular season games decided by only one goal. Their winning streak was snapped in overtime by a very strong Arkansas team, 1-0. That was followed by a defeat against Ole Miss, and a thrilling 2-1 overtime win against Tennessee, with senior Peyton Cutshall finding the golden goal. With all to play for in the last two games of the regular season, the Commodores lost to a weaker Texas A&M team but beat Georgia on the road. 

The Commodores’ conference record of 5-4-1 was good for 16 points, tied for fifth with both Auburn and Alabama. However, Vanderbilt had the worst tiebreakers of the three, and by the thinnest of margins (just one goal) missed out on a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

“It was this gushing high of beating Georgia on the road and thinking we got a bye to this crushing blow of Auburn losing and that would create this tie. That was this big emotional swing in literally 60 minutes,” Ambrose said of the final-day drama. “And then frankly, the fatigue. We drove seven hours on the bus Wednesday, played Thursday [against Georgia], seven hours on the bus on Friday, and then played again on Sunday [in the conference tournament against Florida], it was really draining.”

Vanderbilt entered Sunday’s clash as the 7-seed against the 10-seeded Gators, who were the last team to qualify for the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach. The Commodores were 4-1-1 in the SEC East division, good for a second-place tie with South Carolina, two points behind Tennessee.

Sophomore Kate Devine started all 19 games in goal, making 64 saves and recording four clean sheets. Senior center-back Ella Shamburger led the back four and team overall with 1,761 minutes. Grad student Maddie Elwell had the most assists with nine, and senior Raegan Kelley led the attack with eight of the team’s 31 goals. Next year’s team will miss the class of 2021, who Ambrose lauded for their leadership.

“Consistency, hard work and being tough are the staples to be successful, and when I think about those [senior] players, that’s what I think about. That’s what I remember,” he said. “That’s what they brought every day in practice, you knew what you were getting. They work so dang hard and are tough kids and will do what it takes to compete.”

Overall, the Commodores finished 8-8-3 in their 2021 season, Ambrose’s seventh at the helm. While Vanderbilt is unlikely to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and will likely be disappointed, the Commodores can reflect on this fall with optimism for the future after a few impressive results and a solid conference season.

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About the Contributor
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. You can reach him at [email protected].
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