Soccer Preview: Commodores Prepare for Cross-State Rivalry

After a comeback win against the Kentucky Wildcats last weekend, the Vanderbilt Soccer team prepares for their first away game of the season in Knoxville versus the Tennessee Volunteers.

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Brent Szklaruk

The Women’s Soccer Team beats the 11th-ranked Tennessee team on Thursday, October 19, 2017. (Hustler Multimedia/Brent Szklaruk)

Grace Nanney, Staff Writer

Last Sunday, the Commodores found themselves down 0-2 early in the first half after the Kentucky Wildcats scored two goals within just 46 seconds of one another. 

After a scoreless first half for the Commodores, their offensive firepower came alive. Vanderbilt scored three  goals in the second half to defeat the Wildcats 3-2.  

Haley Hopkins, 2019 All-SEC Second Team and 2018 SEC Freshman of the Year, helped lead the team to victory by notching two goals, including the game winner.

“She sets a tone competitively when the game is on the line,” head soccer coach Darren Ambrose said. “Anywhere 25 yards from goal she’s going to be a threat that people have to pay attention to.”

Having scored 13 goals last season and setting a Vanderbilt record for most game-winning goals (six), Hopkins is poised to have another standout season for the Commodores. 

Hopkins will surely be one of the keys to success for the Commodores this weekend as they face the Tennessee Volunteers. But it’s those players who often don’t make it on the score sheet who will play a vital role for the Commodores this Sunday as well. 

“There’s people you don’t see, like Raegen Kelley, who kept possession for us and connected passes,” Ambrose said. “And players like Olivia Simmons, whose energy, communication, and willingness to work is just unmatched.”

Upperclassmen like Kelley and Simmons have the experience and skills that helped the Commodores maintain possession for 64 percent of the game against the Wildcats. 

Defense is something the team hopes to improve upon this weekend against the Volunteers. With the graduation of key defensemen and captain Nia Dorsey this season, the young defense aims to get tougher. 

“We’ve always talked to this program about how we’re competitive and feisty and tough,” Ambrose said. “We just have to be tougher in our tackles and a little bit more physical in how we approach that.”

After beating the Volunteers 1-0 in double overtime in 2019, the Commodores prepare for another exciting match this Sunday, Sept. 27 at 1 p.m. CST. Fans can catch all the action live on ESPNU. 

“It’s a game we go into with great pride,” Ambrose said. “It’s a rivalry game, so we know that the intensity will be high.”

This cross-state rivalry has been brewing since Ambrose got his start at Vanderbilt, and Vanderbilt has now beat the Volunteers in close matches three seasons in a row. 

Tennessee comes into the weekend 0-1 after a 3-1 loss against Alabama last Saturday. Despite this loss, expect an interesting battle this weekend as two great soccer teams face off in Knoxville.