In a battle of Southeastern Conference heavyweights, Vanderbilt soccer earned a clutch golden goal from Defender Madiya Harriott in the 110th minute to best rival Tennessee 1-0 in extra time on Sunday afternoon.
The game, Vanderbilt’s SEC opener, had the makings of a draw for much of regulation, with neither team seriously challenging the opposing goalkeeper. Even the majority of extra time featured few chances, so the last-minute goal from Harriott was all the more dramatic.
The physicality of SEC play was on full display throughout, with Vanderbilt fielding 13 shots and 56% possession, both well below their average marks of 20+ shots per game and 60%+ possession. Similarly, Tennessee only managed eight shots of their own, but five were on target, compared to just two for the Commodores.
On the tightness of the game, head coach Darren Ambrose said “I don’t think it was a great soccer game, but it was a great competition. Credit to Tennessee, they wanted a knock-down, drag-out kind of game.”
Like Vanderbilt, Tennessee entered the match with just one loss, at Rutgers 1-0 on Aug. 29.
The Volunteers had won four of their last five matches to close out non-conference play, including a 1-0 home win against UC Davis in their most recent game.
Although Tennessee was unranked by the United Soccer Coaches poll coming into the match, the primary poll used by NCAA for women’s soccer that ranked Vanderbilt 17th, Top Drawer, another major ranking, put Tennessee at 14, five spots below Vanderbilt at 9.
Unlike in their previous first halves, the Commodores enjoyed few opportunities at goal. While they managed five shots and controlled 58% of the ball, Vanderbilt didn’t force a save from Volunteers goalkeeper Lindsey Romig, while the Volunteers forced two from Lauren Demarchi.
Maybe the best look for the Commodores in the first half came in the 29th minute, when Forward Kaylann Boyd linked up with a low cross from Midfielder Leila Azari at the near post, but she mishit the ball and deflected it a yard to the right of goal.
Other early chances for Vanderbilt included a 15th minute looping cross from Midfielder Raegan Kelley that fell to a crowd of bodies 10 yards out, drawing Romig off her line, but no Commodore could pounce on the loose ball quickly enough to manage a shot. Forward Maddie Elwell completed a dangerous run from the left side in the 39th minute with a low shot at the near post from 10 yards out, but it whizzed past the left post and behind the goal.
Like Vanderbilt, Tennessee had few genuine chances in the first half. Arguably their best look came from Midfielder Sonia Ouchene Salon in the 11th minute from 20 yards in front of goal, but Demarchi made an easy grab near the top of the frame.
The second half largely mirrored the first in terms of a lack of offensive intensity on both sides, but the Commodores did lead an attack just as the second half kicked off, with a great cross by Elwell in the 46th minute that just failed to connect.
Momentum shifted towards Vanderbilt around the 50th minute, with the Commodores controlling possession and having several crosses into the box. In the 55th minute, Azari had a strong chance from roughly 20 yards out, but she was whistled for a foul.
Though they only recorded one shot on goal throughout the entirety of the second half, Vanderbilt did have a few promising opportunities. Raegan Kelley nearly found the back of the net on a couple of occasions, as she took quality shots after maneuvering around Tennessee defenders just outside the box. Forward Haley Hopkins managed a straightaway shot from the top of the box in the 63rd minute, but it lacked zip and went straight to Romig. Forward Olivia Simmons received a dangerous through-ball from Kelley to the left side of goal in the 64th minute, but Simmons skied her shot over the bar from close range.
Both teams managed few shots in the final 20 minutes of regulation, with Vanderbilt riding key tackles from Defenders Ella Shamburger and Nia Dorsey to stop multiple Tennessee buildups and preserve the shutout.
Extra time continued the defensive battle the game had become in regulation. Two Vanderbilt crosses, one to the near post in the 97th minute and one across the face of goal in the 100th minute, showed promise but failed to connect with anyone, and the Commodores didn’t manage any other meaningful looks in the first period of extra time.
Even the minutes leading up to the breakthrough goal were relatively subdued from both sides. Indeed, Tennessee appeared to apply more pressure in the second half of extra time, stringing together several dangerous runs towards the Vanderbilt 18-yard box. The final two minutes hinted at a final push from Vanderbilt though, including a 109th minute long ball from Elwell off an impressive spin move that arced just over the crossbar.
The deciding goal came off a corner with less than a minute to play in extra time. A corner kick from the left side in the 110th minute bounced around to the back post, finding Harriott unmarked who slid from 5 yards out and slotted the ball past Romig to the far side of goal.
Now having given up just three goals in their first nine games, Vanderbilt is developing a reputation for defensive prowess. Ambrose attributed that to his team’s persistence and physicality. “Most SEC games aren’t pretty affairs. They’ve really become about fitness and determination of will. And I think our kids exhibited that today as well as they ever have at any time. Really proud of them.”
Harriott, the goal-scoring hero, shared similar praise for her defensive teammates.
“We have such a solid back line,” Harriot said. “We have a lot of depth on our bench, and Lauren Demarchi and Taiana Tolleson propel us through these games.”
Vanderbilt soccer also set a new attendance record of 1,193 fans this afternoon, edging their previous record of 1,177 set against South Carolina last season. Ambrose said “The crowd was fantastic. To see that many people here to support this team is encouraging. It feels really great to have the community behind us.” Harriott added that “The fans were amazing. We’re really happy about that.”
Vanderbilt soccer improves to 8-1 on the season and will continue its SEC campaign with a road match against 16th-ranked Arkansas on Thursday, Sept. 26, before coming home to face Florida on Sunday, Sept. 29, at 12 p.m.