Vanderbilt soccer extends its win streak, beats Mississippi State 2-1

The Commodores produced a dominant win to finish their home slate, but next, they take on Tennessee to determine the winner of the SEC East.

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Ophelia Lu

Abi Brighton and Mississippi Bulldog fighting for the ball, as photographed on Oct. 23, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu)

Sam Curtis, Sports Copy Editor

Riding a two-game win streak, the Vanderbilt soccer team (11-2-3) looked to close out their home slate with another notch in the victory column. They earned that tick with a 2-1 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs (10-4-3) on Oct. 23. This result also means that the last time the Commodores lost at home was over a month ago on Sept. 18 in their SEC opener against LSU when they fell 2-1

The game started with Vanderbilt on the front foot. The Commodores worked the left sideline, and it was there that they earned their first goal. Alex Kerr received the ball just outside the final third and used her speed to exploit a weak spot in the Mississippi State defense. Their backtracking right back could only chase a breaking Kerr who entered the 18-yard box and took a sharp angle against keeper Mac Titus. Somehow, Kerr found a way to beat Titus at her near post and push Vanderbilt out to an early 1-0 lead.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of emotion. We just wanted to start the half off on the right foot,” Kerr said in reference to her Senior Day goal. “It was awesome.”

The Commodores’ advantage would not last long, however. Mississippi State, whose offense mainly consisted of counter-attacks and probing long balls, were able to find forward Maggie Wadsworth in a dangerous area of the field. Wadsworth seized the opportunity and carried the ball from the left side of the box toward the penalty spot, cutting through the Vanderbilt defense and bringing keeper Kate Devine off her line. The Bulldog attacker made it look all too easy, as she slotted the ball right past Devine and knotted the game up at one a piece.

The Black-and-Gold stayed aggressive for the rest of the first period. In the 17th minute, Abi Brighton evaded a defender and played a perfect through ball to Kerr who found herself one-on-one with the keeper. This time, Titus got the better of Kerr and parried the Commodore attacker’s shot away with her left leg.

Vanderbilt went back on the attack in the 20th minute. Another through ball from the midfield caused trouble for the Bulldog defense, but this time, defender Gwen Mummert would not allow any easy chance on net. She held onto the Vanderbilt forward and earned herself a yellow card in the process. The shrewd play stopped another breakaway chance but put the center back Mummert on alert for the rest of the day.

The first half concluded with Vanderbilt owning 54% possession of the ball. Unluckily, their dominance showed up more in their shot difference (6-2) than it did on the scoreboard, which still read 1-1. 

The second half began with more Vanderbilt chances—four corners, two Peyton Cutshall headers from the penalty spot, two Amber Nguyen shots from just outside the box and no goals. The Commodores were getting plenty of opportunities but were unable to put chances away. It seemed the home team would need a tap-in or a high percentage shot of some kind to break the deadlock. 

That chance came in the 75th minute. Vanderbilt’s Alex Wagner took a throw-in deep down the left sideline of Mississippi State. She got a one-two pass back to her feet and sent a textbook cross into the back post. Hannah McLaughlin was perfectly positioned to take the opportunity on her first touch, using her right foot to sneak it past the keeper’s outstretched left leg. The goal put the Bulldogs on alert.

For the majority of the half, Mississippi State completely backed into their shell. They played with little offensive identity, and their only chance of the half was a quickly-cleared corner kick. However, after Vanderbilt took a 2-1 lead, the Bulldogs tried to jump into action. They pushed more attackers forward and pumped the ball into Vanderbilt’s final third in hopes of a defensive breakdown. No such luck. The veteran Commodore defense held firm and shut the Bulldogs out for the rest of the game. 

“What I liked about us is that we were relentless for the second half, I thought we carried the game,” head coach Darren Ambrose said. “Obviously the last 10 minutes, they were banging everything at us, but I thought overall we dominated the second half as we wanted to, and we kept them on the back foot for most of the time.”

With this victory, Vanderbilt moves into the lead of the SEC East division. The performance underlines how impressive the Commodores have been this season; Mississippi State is in second place in the SEC West, yet Vanderbilt made them look run-of-the-mill at best. They finished with 56% possession and 14 shots on target compared to just 3 for Mississippi State. And though the defensive dominance is to be expected from Vanderbilt, the offensive play was notable, considering Mississippi State was only averaging 0.63 goals against per game coming into the day—good for second in the SEC. 

Now, the Commodores can look ahead to the season’s closing matches.

“We’re excited. We’re on a really good streak right now,” Kerr said.

Indeed, the Commodores are hot. However, the team will need to maintain their strong defensive presence and goal-scoring if they want to make a run in both the SEC and NCAA Tournament. 

Their first challenge comes in their regular season finale against Tennessee. The game will determine the winner of the SEC East and takes place in Knoxville on Oct. 27 at 5:30 p.m. CDT.