NASHVILLE, Tenn. — That next big hurdle is on the horizon out in Hollywood. The Commodores are poised to try to make some history this weekend.
“Really proud of how far our team has come this year,” Vanderbilt head coach Darren Ambrose said. “It’s thrilling to be able to stand here today and we’re a game away from advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time in the program’s history.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and a good opponent in Northwestern, but the team is ready for the challenge.”
Vandy has never won two games in the NCAA Tournament in its history. That could change at 6 p.m. CT Friday when Vanderbilt takes the pitch against 4-seed Northwestern at Wallis Annenberg Stadium on on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles.
The Commodores are coming off a thrilling, 1-0 victory at Clemson on Friday where they got a Peyton Cutshall header in the 61st minute and then hung on to eliminate the Tigers. That was the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 2018.
But Ambrose said his side was brimming with confidence ahead of that match because of their strong form in recent weeks against their peers in the Southeastern Conference.
“The comment was made (before NCAA Tournament selections), ‘It doesn’t matter what name comes up against ours in the NCAA Tournament. It just won’t matter if you play with that kind of commitment and heart,’ ” Ambrose said. “There’s a true pride our girls have in representing the jersey.
“There really is a genuine love to put on the jersey and play for that logo. I think that’s evident every time we set foot on the field.”
No. 12-ranked Northwestern (15-4-2) rebounded from a 2-0 loss to Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament to advance past Southern Illinois Edwardsville 3-0 on Saturday in Evanston, Illinois. The Wildcats went unbeaten between Aug. 25 and Oct. 15, winning seven straight at one point during that stretch.
Junior Josie Aulicino makes Northwestern go with her eight goals and nine assists. But junior Meg Boade has also scored seven and Aurea del Carmen and senior Rowan Lapi have each tallied six goals.
Keeper Mia Raben has made 50 saves in 21 games for the Wildcats.
“They restrict time and space by staying incredibly compact and close together,” Ambrose said. “Our job is to make sure we’re patient enough to not get drawn into spaces that we cannot get out of. That’s the the thing they do really well.
“They allow you into a certain part of the field and then they just close the net. And then they counterattack really, really well. So we’ve just got to be patient, be very aware to not be drawn into those spaces.”
Should Vanderbilt advance past Northwestern it will face either No. 1 UCLA (18-2) or No. 20 Central Florida (9-2-6) at 8 p.m. CT Sunday at UCLA.
Vanderbilt and Northwestern have never met before Friday.
“We think we can give them a good battle and we’re pretty confident that we can take that next step,” Cutshall said.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.