Rachel Deresky: Back to her goal-scoring ways

Less than a year after a devastating ACL tear that ended her 2022 season, junior forward Rachel Deresky is back leading the line for Vanderbilt Soccer.
Junior forward Rachel Deresky is back to her goal-scoring ways following a devastating ACL injury less than a year ago (Hustler Multimedia/Sofia El-Shammaa).
Junior forward Rachel Deresky is back to her goal-scoring ways following a devastating ACL injury less than a year ago (Hustler Multimedia/Sofia El-Shammaa).
Sofia El-Shammaa

It’s a Sunday afternoon in late September 2022 in Columbia, Mo. The Commodores are playing their third game of the SEC schedule against Missouri, and are at a 0-0 deadlock at halftime. Rachel Deresky, one of Vanderbilt’s top forwards, is substituted back in the game to try to give the Commodores the lead.

It’s her first season as a full-time starter, but Deresky has already made a major impact ― scoring 5 goals, tied for the most on the team. Missouri controls the pace of the next 20 minutes, but the Commodores are able to hang on. In the 70th minute, Deresky goes down with a knee injury and is forced off the field. Vanderbilt went on to score two late goals to win the game 2-0.

“I didn’t think I tore it,” Deresky said in an interview with The Hustler, reflecting on that moment. “I could still walk on it. It didn’t hurt that bad or anything. I really didn’t realize until I got to the doctor the next day.”

Two weeks later, Deresky announced on Instagram that she’d suffered a season-ending torn ACL in her right knee. It marked her second ACL injury in that knee, following one sustained in her senior year of high school. The Dunkirk, Md. native was unable to participate in the remainder of the Commodores’ season which saw them finish 5-3-2 in SEC play and reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Less than a year later, the now-junior Deresky is back as one of the leaders of Vanderbilt’s attacking line heading into the start of its SEC schedule. While her road to full recovery has been difficult — and is not over yet — Deresky has the competitive spirit to remain a top attacker in the SEC. And her competitive spirit runs deep.

“I’ve been playing soccer pretty much my whole life since I was three or four,” Deresky said. “I have an older sister and an older brother. They both played soccer, and my dad played soccer.”

A star recruit, Deresky committed to Vanderbilt just after her freshman year in high school. A change in NCAA rules at that time forced her to choose between committing then and waiting until her senior year, so she made her decision early.

Her early college commitment certainly didn’t slow Deresky down. At Northern High School, she scored a league record 122 goals, winning back-to-back state championships in 2018-19 while scoring four of her team’s five goals in the finals. She was named First Team All-State in both of those seasons and the Washington Post’s All-MET Player of the Year in 2019. Also playing with top-ranked club team Maryland United and NWSL club Washington Spirit’s Player Development Program, Deresky arrived in Nashville with high expectations.

On a crowded Commodore roster, Deresky was mostly used off the bench in her freshman season in 2021. She appeared in 18 of Vanderbilt’s 19 games, making one start. Deresky scored her first college goal on Sept. 12, 2021, against MTSU and recorded two assists that year. Despite a solid start to her career, Deresky was admittedly disappointed with her lack of playing time.

“Yeah, I mean it’s always a hard transition,” Deresky said. “I think I was coming in expecting to play more than I did freshman year… I was working more and more and trying to develop.”

Determined to earn her way into the regular lineup, Deresky started all 10 of Vanderbilt’s games in 2022 before her injury. As a sophomore, she scored the winning goal in both of Vanderbilt’s first two games at Evansville and Purdue. Deresky and Raegan Kelley led the attack for a team that won its first five games without conceding a single goal, and she tallied 5 goals and 3 assists in the 10 games she played. Deresky’s start was so strong that she finished the season tied for second on the team with 13 points despite missing more than half of the season.

Unfortunately, the torn ACL meant that Deresky was forced to watch the rest of the Commodores’ 2022 season from the sidelines or from home. 

“It was pretty disheartening when I got injured, having to develop completely at home,” Deresky said. “And so after that, I watched all the games from home when I couldn’t travel, and then I came to all the home games. It was definitely an adjustment period to being in my own little world.”

Still a formidable attack with Kelley, Alex Kerr and Peyton Cutshall, the Commodores recorded a winning season in the SEC and their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance under Darren Ambrose.

Entering 2023, there were plenty of questions about whether Vanderbilt would be able to score with the consistency it did last season. Kelley, Kerr and Cutshall all departed, while Deresky was still actively recovering.

Deresky had surgery following her injury in October 2022 and began a long program of rehabilitation. After a seven-month regimen of building up strength, she was only able to return to soccer activities in April and was cleared for contact play only three weeks before the start of this season.

“I think I’m pretty close,” Deresky said about her fitness. “I feel like I’m continuing to get closer and closer every week and every game. I would say I’m probably 90, 95% back now. I think I’m just still half a step behind and maybe some of the aggressive mentalities are not all there yet.”

While not quite at 100%, Deresky appeared in both of Vanderbilt’s preseason games and made her official return in the Commodores’ season-opening win against Chattanooga. 10 days later against Belmont, she had her first goal back.

“After I got the goal against Belmont, that was pretty exciting,” Deresky said. “Everyone was telling me, ‘You just have to get the first one and then they’ll all come.’ So hopefully that’s true. We’ll see.”

Deresky added two more goals to her tally on Sept. 10 in Vanderbilt’s 6-0 rout of MTSU at Geodis Park, a few days after our interview.

As both Deresky and Ambrose have admitted, Vanderbilt is still not at its peak sharpness. The Commodores do have three ties, and missed chances led to a 0-0 home draw for Vanderbilt against UMass on Aug. 20. Still, after an undefeated nonconference run, Deresky is optimistic about the way her team has played and that their attacking play will continue to improve.

“We’ve definitely had a slower start in scoring goals and with our play in the final third,” Deresky said. “I think that’s something we’re still working on this season and hopefully we’ll bring it back.” 

Going into their SEC opener on Sept. 15 at South Carolina, the Commodores are looking for their third straight winning conference record and their sixth in nine seasons under Ambrose. Vanderbilt was ranked 7th of the 14 SEC teams in the United Soccer Coaches’ preseason poll.

While there have certainly been a lot of bumps in the road, there is little stopping Deresky from having an explosive season at the front of Vanderbilt’s attacking line. Whether it be via her goals or playmaking ability, Deresky is essential to the Commodores’ attacking play, and Ambrose has certainly taken note of her impact.

“She’s getting stronger every week,” Ambrose said of Deresky’s improvement. “It’s nice to have her back on the field. She’s such a skillful player when she’s running at people. And I think what’s going to come from her is more creating because off the dribble she’s incredibly dangerous.”

With likely just two seasons left in her college career, a healthy Deresky is one of the top names Vanderbilt soccer fans should be watching. However, the junior doesn’t want college to be the end of her soccer career.

“I would love to play pro soccer and get drafted,” Deresky said. “So if I have a good next couple of seasons, that seems like something I’d be able to do. I would definitely take that next step.”

Vanderbilt will face several tough challenges throughout the rest of this year, beginning with Friday’s road test against No. 9 South Carolina, who has conceded just 4 goals in eight games so far. However, the Commodores have a roster full of players who don’t back away from challenges like that, and Deresky is certainly one of them.

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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].
Sofia El-Shammaa
Sofia El-Shammaa, Staff Writer and Photographer, Data and Graphics Staffer
Sofia El-Shammaa (‘27) is majoring in political science and communication studies in the College of Arts and Science. When they’re not writing or making graphics, you can find them with their cat, Mochi, watching bad movies or reading good books. You can reach them at [email protected].
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