Eight predictions for Vanderbilt Athletics in 2023
Bowl game? A return to Omaha? National championship? Coaching changes? The Vanderbilt Hustler Sports staff makes predictions for 2023.
December 31, 2022
As the calendar turns to 2023, Vanderbilt Athletics turns the page on a successful year in 2022 across many sports. 2022 included an individual national champion (Gordon Sargent), a near-bowl appearance from Clark Lea and the football program, NIT runs for both men’s and women’s basketball, a surprisingly scrappy soccer team and more.
The 2022 calendar was certainly exciting, but our staff is predicting even greater accomplishments in the upcoming year. The Vanderbilt Hustler Sports staff went around the table to preview Vanderbilt Athletics in the New Year by providing eight predictions to come in 2023.
Prediction #1: Vanderbilt Men’s Golf wins its first national championship in program history
We all know about the success that Tim Corbin has had with Vanderbilt baseball, turning them into one of the premier baseball programs in the country. We covered Clark Lea’s improbable Year 2 turnaround all fall. Jerry Stackhouse and Shea Ralph’s on-court trials and tribulations have been well documented. But one program that flies under the radar is Scott Limbaugh’s men’s golf team. Limbaugh’s squad got a taste of glory last season when Gordon Sargent won the individual national championship, the first freshman to do so since 2007. Behind Sargent’s hot performance, Vanderbilt advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament before bowing out to Texas. The team’s goals should be even higher in 2023 as the Commodores return Sargent, Cole Sherwood, Reid Davenport, William Moll and Matthew Riedel. Limbaugh also added two highly-touted prep reinforcements in Wells Williams (No. 1-ranked amateur golfer in Mississippi) and John Broderick (No. 1-ranked amateur golfer in Massachusetts) to his roster.
The 10th-year head coach described the collection of talent as the best he has ever had in September when the program earned a No. 2 preseason ranking. It was an up-and-down fall season for the Commodores, relative to the sky-high expectations, but Vanderbilt ended the year by cruising past old nemesis Texas to win the East Lake Cup. I predict Limbaugh & Co. will carry that momentum into the New Year and win the first national championship in program history and the school’s first since the VandyBoys did it in 2019.
– Bryce Smith, Sports Editor
Prediction #2: Vanderbilt Soccer makes it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament
For all of head coach Darren Ambrose’s successes, a deep run into the NCAA Tournament has always eluded him and Vanderbilt Soccer. In fact, the program has never made it past the second round in its history. This year, Northwestern ended the team’s hopes of advancing further in the big dance and banishing its boogeyman once and for all. While many would look at Vanderbilt’s roster and think it is depleted of too much talent (thanks to Ella Shamburger, Raegan Kelley and Peyton Cutshall, to name a few), the Commodores’ roster was deep this year. The squad will still maintain a high level of talent with a good core of veterans next season. One only needs to look at who played in Vanderbilt’s final NCAA Tournament matchup with the Wildcats to believe in this feat: 9 of the 16 players who made an appearance were underclassmen. To me, 2023 finally seems like the year that Ambrose & Co. make it over the hump and win two (or more) consecutive games in the NCAA Tournament. You can expect to hear all about it on Soccer with Sam next fall.
– Sam Curtis, Sports Copy Editor
Prediction #3: Ciaja Harbison earns a First Team All-SEC selection
Despite the turmoil that plagued the offseason for Vanderbilt Women’s Basketball, the Commodores have gotten off to a promising 9-5 start this season. Through 14 games, it’s become increasingly clear how valuable guard Ciaja Harbison is to Shea Ralph’s roster. The transfer guard is up to 18.8 points per game and 5.5 assists per game after an impressive showing against Alabama A&M and has scored over 20 points in nearly half of her games played this season. Under Ralph, Harbison has found success scoring at all three levels and orchestrating the Commodores’ offense while converting at a career-best 42.4% from the field. Although Harbison has not yet faced the gauntlet that is SEC play, I predict that the SEC’s second-leading scorer will continue to elevate her play against tougher opponents in the new year.
– Anish Mago, Deputy Sports Editor
Prediction #4: Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball goes winless in the SEC
The road won’t get any easier after an underwhelming 6-6 start to the season saw the Commodores drop games at home to Southern Miss and Grambling State en route to falling out of the KenPom top 100. The team currently sits at No. 106, thirteenth in the SEC, and will face South Carolina at home to open conference play. They can’t afford to come out flat, as that is their most winnable game on paper: the Gamecocks are ranked No. 192, per KenPom. After that, they’ll hit the road to take on red-hot Missouri before facing three AP top-10 opponents in Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama. Nine of the team’s 18 conference matchups are against ranked opponents. Needless to say, the SEC is no cakewalk this year, and a drastic turnaround is necessary if the Commodores want to replicate their success from a year ago.
– Aiden Rutman, Sports Podcast Producer
Prediction #5: Vanderbilt goes bowling (in football)
In 2022, Vanderbilt football came tantalizingly close to making a bowl game for the first time since 2018. 2023 will be the year the drought ends.
Losing key contributors Ray Davis and Anfernee Orji hurts, but many of the stars from this year’s surprise 5-7 squad are returning. On offense, a full offseason of practice should do wonders for AJ Swann as he strengthens his rapport with returning playmakers Will Shepard and Jayden McGowan. Defensively, CJ Taylor returns after being named Vanderbilt’s defensive MVP, and breakout candidate Miles Capers should bolster the pass rush after missing the entire 2022 season with an ACL injury. The Commodores have a winnable non-conference schedule, playing Hawaii, UNLV, Alabama A&M and a Sam Hartman-less Wake Forest. Eking out two SEC wins will be more difficult, but this season proved that good coaching and a little creativity on offense can go a long way. If Vanderbilt football wants to be taken seriously as a program, a bowl game should be the expectation.
– Brandon Karp, Lead Sports Analyst
Prediction #6: Vanderbilt Bowling manifests a national title
Directly to the left of the entrance of the Rec Center’s bowling alley hangs a poster that reads “2023 National Champions Vanderbilt Commodores.” Every player was given a wallet-sized version to keep in their locker, dorm or wherever would best serve as a constant motivator to seek the program’s third NCAA championship.
The Commodores last hoisted the trophy in 2018 and just last year finished third behind McKendree and Stephen F. Austin. Despite losing the only graduate player in team history, the addition of freshmen Alyssa Ballard and Victoria Varano has made the roster inarguably better and deeper. Through three tournaments, Vanderbilt has finished third, second and second. Once the aforementioned freshmen get more accustomed to the starting lineup—and if sophomore Paige Peters can get back to where she left off last season—there’s going to be very few teams in the country that can score with the Commodores.
– Jayce Pollard, Staff Writer
Prediction #7: Vanderbilt Baseball makes it back to the CWS Finals
In 2021, the VandyBoys rode as good of a college pitching pair as you will ever find to an improbable runner-up finish in Omaha. The truth is that Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker put a poncho on a flawed roster that could not succeed on the highest level without stellar pitching. As a result, the offense was anemic at times last season without Leiter and Rocker except for when Spencer Jones and Dominic Keegan were not hitting home runs. There was no great pitching to make up for the lack of runs, and the team did not make it to Omaha, understandably so.
All this is to say that this year’s team will be able to tap into some of that pitching prowess that has been so successful for it in the past, while also improving their bats. Vanderbilt had an astounding number of innings pitched by freshmen last season, which historically is a good indicator of effective pitching in following years. Carter Hilton and Devin Futrell should be the next great 1-2 punch in the Black and Gold, bookending the weekend. Freshman Andrew Dutkanych passed on the 1st round of the draft to come to Nashville, and he will be a dynamic piece, especially as the season gets deeper into the spring. The outfield will be the pillars of the lineup with Enrique Bradfield Jr. being touted as the best outfielder in the country, TJ McKenzie showing serious progression last year and incoming transfer RJ Schreck (Duke) poised to break out. This team is more well-rounded than last year’s and there is no reason to have expectations short of a return to Omaha. Hopefully, it ends in another banner.
– Jesse Goldman, Staff Writer
Prediction #8: The VandyBoys go back to Omaha
I’m not going to be quite as optimistic as Jesse, but the signs are there that the VandyBoys will have a bounce-back season. Enrique Bradfield Jr. should have another fantastic season defensively and on the basepaths, and he even showed last year that there might be a little power in his bat. He’ll join incoming Duke transfer RJ Schreck and hopefully TJ McKenzie for what should be a strong outfield. The pitching outlook is much more clear than it was last winter, with sophomores Carter Holton and Devin Futrell likely to anchor the starting rotation. Those two look like one of the top one-two punches in the country, an absolute necessity in any Super Regional.
While I’m impressed by the outfield and the pitching, the infield is a little less convincing. Here’s what we know for sure: Tim Corbin will name four starting infielders for the opening weekend, and one of them will probably be Davis Diaz. Other than that, it’s pretty much wide open. The good news is that there’s time: Vanderbilt opens the season with a special event at GlobeLife Field in Arlington, Texas, where they’ll face three top-tier programs. With a difficult but manageable schedule ahead in the spring, the VandyBoys’ prospects are good, even if there are still plenty of questions to be answered.
– Frankie Sheehy, Senior Staff Writer