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.

2023 Season Preview: Vanderbilt Soccer

Led by familiar faces and a highly touted freshman class, the Commodores enter 2023 with high expectations.
Anseley Philippe
The Commodores taking the field on Oct. 23, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/Anseley Philippe).

Vanderbilt Soccer’s 2022 season came to an end in Los Angeles on Nov. 18, 2022, with a 2-1 defeat to Northwestern in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The 2022 team reached the College Cup for the 12th time, the fifth under head coach Darren Ambrose. Yet, despite seven first-round wins, Vanderbilt has never reached the elusive third round. While 2022 was certainly a success with three wins over ranked teams, there is still plenty of room for improvement as the new season begins on Aug. 17 against UT-Chattanooga.

Now, in Ambrose’s ninth season at the helm, Vanderbilt has a revamped team that will try to build on the program’s recent success.

One of the biggest losses from last year is defender Ella Shamburger, who was drafted in the 4th round of the 2023 NWSL Draft by the Kansas City Current. Shamburger made 97 starts over her five-year Vanderbilt career and was the first Commodore to receive All-Southeast region honors four times. Vanderbilt will also be without Raegan Kelley, Alex Kerr and Peyton Cutshall: three of its top four goalscorers in 2022. Still, Ambrose is unconcerned about the team’s ability to score goals.

“They were certainly influential players in our attack in their time in our program, and we have multiple players with scoring ability on the roster this fall,” Ambrose told The Hustler. “Every year, we graduate players who scored goals, and, underneath them, we have always seen emerging talents who have been working hard for their opportunity. I believe we have a very exciting group of players in our attacking roles, not just one or two.”

While the losses are real, Vanderbilt boasts a decorated incoming class of six players that will compete for playing time in forward and midfield roles. The group was ranked in the top 10 freshman classes by Top Drawer Soccer. The freshman class includes Nyela Calnek, a speedy forward from Florida who was a high school state finalist in both soccer and the 400-meter dash. She’s joined by Melania Fullerton, an all-state midfielder from Texas with an already impressive resume that includes having played in the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship for Grenada at the age of just 11. The rest of the class includes back-to-back Kansas state champion and Player of the Year Sydney Watts, Olympic Development Program participant Ella Eggleston, U.S. Soccer player development invitee Courtney Jones and Maryland’s Howard County Player of the Year Giavana Liberto.

The freshmen will complement a core of top returning players that includes junior forward Rachel Deresky, sophomore defender Ella Zimmerman and key seniors such as defenders Maya Antoine and Alex Wagner, goalkeeper Kate Devine and midfielder Abi Brighton.

“The team needs them to be leaders, to set and maintain a competitive and upbeat tone in training and in the locker room,” Ambrose said. “The senior group has a lot to offer this team on and off of the field, and I am confident they will lead us to where we want to go.”

After two exhibition matches against UAB and Memphis, Vanderbilt will kick off the regular season with a home game against UT-Chattanooga on Aug. 17. The Commodores will play a total of eight nonconference games, six of which will be at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex. The nonconference schedule is highlighted by a home rematch against Northwestern (Sept. 3) and the classic Nashville rivalry game against Belmont on Aug. 27. Vanderbilt will wrap up the nonconference slate against Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 10 at GEODIS Park, the 30,000-seat home of Nashville SC.

“It will be an incredible opportunity for our players to experience a professional organization and facility,” Ambrose said of the game at GEODIS Park. “Playing a local rival enhances the occasion. We hope the match-up brings out the local soccer community to see Nashville’s ‘other’ soccer team!”

Vanderbilt’s 10-game SEC schedule will feature clashes against all six of its East Division foes and cross-division matchups against Ole Miss (Sept. 21), Alabama (Sept. 24), Texas A&M (Oct. 5) and Mississippi State (Oct. 19). The conference schedule opens on the road against defending SEC Tournament champion South Carolina on Sept. 15 and concludes with the regular-season finale against rival Tennessee on Oct. 26 at home.

Held in Pensacola, Fla., the SEC Tournament will feature the top 10 teams of the regular season and will begin on Oct. 29.

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About the Contributors
Frankie Sheehy
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].
Anseley Philippe
Anseley Philippe, Staff Writer and Photographer
Anseley Philippe ('25) is a potential biomedical engineering and Spanish double-major who aspires to be an immunologist. Outside of The Hustler, he can be found queuing up at 2301, wandering around campus during his evening promenades or trying to keep up with his Spanish. He can be reached at [email protected].
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