Vanderbilt Soccer takes season opener 1-0 over Tennessee Tech

The No. 18 Commodores began their 2021 season with a thriller on Thursday, beating in-state foe Tennessee Tech 1-0 in overtime.

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Abi Brighton scored an overtime goal to send the Commodores home with a 1-0 win in their season opener. (Vanderbilt Athletics).

Justin Hershey, Sports Editor

Commodore athletics officially made its fall return Thursday night, as Vanderbilt soccer got its season underway with an overtime victory over Tennessee Tech. The Commodores bested the Golden Eagles 1-0 in the teams’ first regular season matchup since 2017.

“We showed great determination. We kept banging on the door,” head coach Darren Ambrose said after the game. “The timing and the composure in the first game of the year aren’t there, but they are in the right spots. I can’t fault anything about the effort and the way we played.”

After splitting a pair of exhibition games in early August, Ambrose’s team got off to a solid start in front of a strong contingent of Commodore fans at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex, but it took until the seventh minute of the first overtime session for the reigning SEC Tournament champions to break through.

The premier offseason storyline for Vanderbilt was the loss of forward Haley Hopkins—the program’s second-leading all-time scorer—and who would step up on offense in her absence. The Commodores showed that they have plenty of potential offensive catalysts, outshooting the Golden Eagles 21-3 and finally capitalizing in the first ten-minute overtime period, when Abi Brighton ripped a right footer into the top left corner of the Tech net to send the Vanderbilt faithful home happy.

Another offseason storyline was Ambrose’s goalkeeping situation. Former Commodore Sarah Fuller turned the position over to sophomore Kate Devine and junior Sophie Guilmette and it was Devine who earned the start in net. She had a relatively stress-free evening as Vanderbilt’s experienced back line dominated the contest. Ella Shamburger, Ava Hetzel and Maya Antoine were forces inside the Vanderbilt half, seemingly mitigating any sniff of potential Golden Eagle offense.

“Ella and Maya were pretty steady. [Tennessee Tech] didn’t put us in a ton of pressure, but we found our way out of it when they did,” Ambrose said.

Neither the Golden Eagles nor the Commodores were able to develop a steady offensive rhythm early in the contest as each team’s back lines awaited action. But as the first half wore on, Ambrose’s squad began knocking on the door—a door that, nonetheless, would not open until the overtime period.

The Commodores rode their upperclassmen late in the period to put five first-half shots on net. Junior Peyton Cutshall, graduate Madison Elwell and freshman Rachel Deresky all fired good looks at Tech’s keeper Isabelle Austin but none found the nylon.

Deresky registered two first-half shots on goal off of the bench. With 17 of his players being underclassmen, Ambrose took advantage of the non-conference matchup to gain his squad experience, making six substitutions in the first half alone.

Vanderbilt’s late first-half momentum carried over into the second period, with three Commodores nearly finding the net off of a trio of corner kicks in the first 15 minutes of the frame. Ambrose’s team kept pushing and found themselves in great positions to score, but just could not capitalize. A pair of looks from Cutshall nearly went Vanderbilt’s way, but the team was simply unable to find the back of the net until the overtime period.

“I would be really concerned if we didn’t create any chances and gave them lots of chances. [But] we created a ton. We weren’t really sharp and composed in the box. That is something that will come with a little more time and experience,” Ambrose said. “I’m proud that we stuck to the task and deserved to win.”

Vanderbilt will now await Purdue in their second consecutive out-of-conference matchup of the young season. Kickoff between the Commodores and Boilermakers is set for 1 p.m. CDT on Sunday from the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex.