NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt is back on the big stage and, after a year hiatus, is ready to make some noise.
The Commodores (11-4-4) open their NCAA Tournament run at 2 p.m. CT Friday at Clemson.
“Obviously the older players are excited to play them again, but I know the younger players have heard our stories about losing to them because when we make the NCAAs we haven’t gotten out (of the first round) the last few years,” Vandy senior Ella Shamburger said. “We’re really excited because I think this is a really good matchup for us.”
Vanderbilt and Clemson are certainly no strangers. On Nov. 15, 2019, the two sides met in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Riggs Field. That match ended in a 0-0 draw before the Tigers advanced 5-4 on penalty kicks.
Current Commodores Shamburger, Raegan Kelly and Kimya Raietparvar were all on the pitch for that defeat.
“I just remember having a lot of chances and a lot of of our older girls were so on top of that game,” Shamburger said. “To have it fall to PKs was really disappointing, but I’m really glad that we get to go back.”
Vanderbilt (11-4-4) has won four of its last six matches, but is coming off its toughest defeat of the season. Vandy played even with No. 3-ranked Alabama for more than 89 minutes in the second round of the SEC Tournament before a foul call in the box gave the Crimson Tide a penalty kick and, consequentially, a 2-1 victory.
The result was only the fourth setback of the season for the Commodores and three of those came against nationally-ranked opponents.
“The body of work over the year, we won the games we were supposed to win and we won them pretty comfortably. Then we get into conference play and this is arguably one of the toughest conferences in the country. We held our own,” Vandy head coach Darren Ambrose said. “To go down the way we did against Alabama was heartbreaking, but I honestly do think they’re one of the best teams in the country and to do it 48 hours after going to overtime against another top-10 team (Arkansas)? I just think it says a lot about the heart that this group has, says a lot about our program and the standards that we have.”
Clemson (8-4) finished the regular season with a 0-0 draw at Pittsburgh and did not qualify for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. But the Tigers haven’t lost since September and are 3-0-3 in their last six outings.
Head coach Eddie Radwanska’s squad, which lost to Alabama in the first round of the tourney in 2021, went 0-1-2 against SEC foes this season. Caroline Conti and Renee Lyles each have a team-leading four goals for Clemson while keeper Halle Mackiewicz has started all 17 games, recorded seven clean sheets and surrendered just 18 goals.
“They’re very methodical. They play like a pro team,” Ambrose said. “They stroke it around, they’re good in possession, they have a couple of special players in their attacking part of the game. We have to be defensively committed to what we do. Everyone has got to be on the same page—11 minds thinking together, 22 legs working at the same speed.
“If we do that I think we have a chance to disrupt them. But we have to be super-organized defensively, there’s no doubt. And then I think in possession we do what we do. We want to be efficient getting into the final third.”
Friday’s match will likely be played in inclement weather with the forecast calling for a 100 percent chance of rain. The winner advances to face Northwestern or Southern Illinois Edwardsville.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.