The Vanderbilt Women’s Soccer team is primed to make a deep run into this season’s tournament, but they’ve got to go one game at a time, starting with the feisty Murray State Racers (13-4-1) this Saturday night at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex.
Despite the near-freezing forecast, this should be a hotly-contested match.
This is the first NCAA tournament match that Vanderbilt has hosted in over a decade, and it could not come at a better time. The SEC regular season champions have yet to lose a home game this season, and will be hosting a Murray State team who is 3-3-1 on the road.
The Commodores are 2-0 all time against the Racers, with the most recent matchup being a 4-0 shutout in 2016. This season, Abby Roberts, Murray State’s star freshman, has been quite the handful for opposing squads, and is definitely a player to watch.
Murray State has not faced a team of Vanderbilt’s caliber this season, but as SEC Coach of the Year Darren Ambrose put it, “There’s no such thing as an easy game in the NCAA Tournament.”
The Racers managed to overcome a slow start to their season and finished with the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title in hand. In contrast, the Commodores ended their season in a bit of a slump, with their SEC Tournament run cut short in the quarterfinals by an underperforming Florida team.
After starting their season so strong and breaking the team record for longest win streak, their early exit came as a bit of a surprise, but from Ambrose’s perspective, these losses were important for the team’s development.
“It’s a great learning experience,” he said. “It’s a part of becoming a program like some of the others in this country, and we’re not there yet.”
In terms of growing the program, a deep run in the NCAA tournament would be massive. After breaking a 19-year winless drought in the tournament last season, the Commodores were eliminated in the second round, the furthest they have ever been in the tournament. This team has a real chance to break that trend.
This season, the Commodores won their first SEC Regular since 1994, and reached their highest national ranking ever at #7. This is arguably the best soccer team in school history, and they are primed for a run deep into the postseason.
But, they also know that they have to find a new gear in NCAA Tournament.
“We can’t go out there and half-ass it,” said junior Kaylann Boyd. “We have to go out there full force. This might be the last time we get to play.”
Just as the players will be showing out for Saturday night’s matchup, the team made it clear that the student body should be too.
“Its going to be an amazing night. Hopefully people will come out and enjoy.” said Boyd.
As seen in the team’s undefeated home record, they feed off the Vanderbilt crowd’s energy.
“With every single fan, it helps so much to know that we have that support,” said sophomore Madison Elwell.
Freshman Ella Shamburger echoed the statement, saying, “Come out, fill the stands, support us completely and we’ll show you a good game.”
Kickoff is scheduled at 7 PM at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and can be purchased here or at the McGugin Box Office. The first 150 students that show up to the gate by the Currey Tennis Center with their Commodore Card starting at 6 PM on Saturday will get in for free.