NASHVILLE – Vanderbilt defeated Kentucky, 4-1, to clinch the SEC regular season championship for the first time since 1994 on Sunday at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex. It's the third overall SEC Championship for the Commodores after the 1993-1994 teams won back-to-back conference championships.
The No. 12 Commodores (15-1-1) improved to an 8-0-1 mark in conference play and locked up the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament in Orange Beach. The Commodores improved their unbeaten streak to 16 games, which is the highest in program history.
"This group of kids is so special," head coach Darren Ambrose
said. "Winning obviously highlights that because everyone pays attention to them. But the reason they won is because of the relationships they have between them. I'm really proud of all of them."
The Dores used two goals in the first half and added two more in the second half to secure their victory. They wasted no time in the first half getting a goal in the sixth minute. Coming off a corner kick, Haley Hopkins
sent a cross through the box to a waiting Grace Jackson
. Jackson caught the pass and kicked it past Kentucky's goalkeeper for her fourth goal of the season.
The next goal for the Dores came in the 19th
minute and again off a feed from Hopkins. She beat a defender at the top of the box and dribbled along the right set before setting up Kaylann Boyd
right in front of the goal. Boyd did the rest and tapped it in for her eighth goal of the season.
After surrendering a goal early in the second half, the Dores answered with one of their own four minutes later. It looked as if Leila Azari
was going to beat a Wildcat defender to the ball, but before she could get a shot off, the defender kicked into the net for an own goal.
The Dores' last goal came in the 83rd
minute with Boyd and Hopkins working together again. This time it was Boyd setting up Hopkins after she intercepted a goalie kick and headed it to Hopkins, who led a breakaway and got her team-high 12th
goal of the season.
Hopkins finished the game with four points, coming on one goal and two assists to give her a team-high 30 assists this season.
started in goal for the Commodores, and she maintained her unbeaten record, improving to 12-0-1. She also made three saves in the contest.
Senior captain Gabrielle Rademaker
was also extremely proud and pleased with her team.
"We've been working so hard toward this every day," Rademaker said. "I don't cry much, and I bawled like a baby. Because everyone is so passionate and has so much heart for this team. We worked so hard, and it's hard not to get emotional. It's not luck. It's hard work."
The Commodores wrap up conference play on Thursday on the road at Ole Miss. The game is slated for a 6:00 p.m. CT start time and can be viewed on SEC Network+.