In 2005, the Vanderbilt Soccer team burst onto the scene and made history.
They set a school record by winning 11 consecutive games. They made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years. They hosted an NCAA Tournament game in Nashville.
In 2018, the Commodores are ready to make more history, as this year’s team is one win from matching that record winning streak. They’ll have the chance to win their 11th consecutive game on Sunday when they take on Georgia at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex. Former head coach Ronnie Woodard, who coached that 2005 team, couldn’t be more excited.
“I’ll be one of the numbers cheering them on and wishing them the best of luck because I’m super excited to have ever been a part of this program, let alone honored to be able to cheer them on and call myself a fan,” she said.
Woodard coached the Commodores for 10 years before retiring in 2011. She is now a television color commentator for the USL’s Nashville SC. In that 2005 season, Woodard was named SEC co-coach of the year for her contributions to the Commodores’ success.
When you look at the 2005 season, the parallels are instantly apparent. Much like the 2018 team, the 2005 Commodores lost their first game of the season before launching their win streak that stretched into SEC play with wins over Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina. This year’s team has started SEC play with three wins over Florida, Alabama and Missouri.
However, beyond that, the parallels run out. On the field, the two teams are rather different.
“The anchor that provided the 2005 team with success was an All-American goalkeeper, an All-Conference center back and an All-Conference defensive midfielder,” Woodard said. “The core was keeping balls out of the back of the net. The core of this 2018 team is that they are so fun to watch attack. They’re dynamic, they’re aggressive, they have multiple tools and assets that they can use to their advantage and they’re darn scary when they have the ball at their feet.”
That All-American goalkeeper was Tyler Griffin, and she truly was an anchor that elevated the team to a new level. She set an SEC and school record with 14 shutouts and set a school record with a 0.45 goals against average. She broke the program record for consecutive shutout minutes on three separate occasions in 2005.
Griffin was the third All-American in program history, and gave up just one goal during that 11-game winning streak.
“She just found her rhythm,” Woodard said. “When you have a really strong goalkeeper, you can take a lot more risks in a lot of different places on the field. So, the ability to keep the ball out of the back of the net with Tyler Griffin just allowed us to be able to be creative and gain confidence in the attacking third.”
Now, Griffin is living in New York, but she remembers how her team approached their magical run that season. In a way, it’s similar to how current head coach Darren Ambrose is approaching this year’s streak.
“I don’t remember focusing on it as a streak necessarily,” Griffin said. “I think we were just looking at it one game at a time from what I remember.”
While the Commodores did not win an NCAA Tournament game in 2005, that season set them up for another NCAA berth in 2006. As the 2018 team tries to earn the program’s second-straight NCAA bid, the 2005 team is prepared to cheer the team on and see Ambrose’s team take the program to new heights.
“I think everyone’s just really excited to see how the year wraps up,” Griffin said. “Obviously, the conference tournament and NCAAs are always the goal and the focus, so we’ll be waiting. I’d love to get down there.”
For Woodard, there’s an easy reason why the fans should come on Sunday and #PackThePlex: this team is fun.
“Everyone loves winners,” she said. “Everyone loves players that are competitive, yet approachable. I think Coach Darren and Ken [Masuhr] and Kelly [Keelan] have done an amazing job with the face of Vanderbilt Soccer. They’re smiling, they’re competing, they’re warriors on the field. They’re scholars in the classroom, and they’re smiling every inch of the way.
“Who doesn’t want to come cheer for something as infectious as that?”