NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jamie Kator and Ashley Oswald met at the same spot, both determined to be the player to deliver a go-ahead goal for Vanderbilt.
But on a hot and muggy Friday night, it was Kator's time to be the star. And the junior came through. In the 67th minute, Kator scored on a penalty kick to lift the Commodores to a 1-0 victory at the Vanderbilt Soccer/Lacrosse Complex in the season opener for both teams.
"When I stepped up Ashley Oswald was there too and we kind of had a silent exchange like, 'Who is going to get this one?'" Kator said. "But it came down to me. I saw the keeper moving and I knew it was just so easy. So I hit it straight, hit it hard and it went in. It was just really exciting."
Kator scored the first goal for Vanderbilt in 2014 after forward Simone Charley drew a foul in the box. Charley, who scored the lone goal in the Commodores' exhibition victory against UAB last week, fell to the ground after she was tangled with Mercer's Rachel Buffalo. The two were fighting for a loose ball and Buffalo was whistled for a foul just inside the box.
That set up Kator, who scored two goals last year. The striker stepped up to the penalty kick spot just 12 yards from the goal. She saw Mercer goalkeeper Christina Mursuli lean to her left and fired a laser down the middle of the goal and to the right of Mursuli.
"Simone was killing them all night around the flank endline," Vanderbilt coach Derek Greene said. They were trying to double team her but she was still doing it. Basically she cut in, beat that kid. The kid had to clip her from behind because Simone was getting in the box. And Jamie Kator is playing outstanding right now. She is a tremendously smart player, tremendously skillful and playing full of confidence. I'm excited for her because this is the fittest she has been in her career and it is paying off."
As they did in their exhibition victory over UAB, the Commodores (1-0) dominated possession of the game.
With eight shots on goal, Vanderbilt had several chances to score early but the Mercer goalie duo of Maggie Cropp and Mursuli made seven saves.
In fact, Vanderbilt outshot Mercer 25-4, including an impressive 14-1 advantage in the second half. Charley fired six shots, Kator had four shots, including three on goal, and Lydia Simmons and Sasha Gray also took four shots.
After the game, Greene reminded his team that they had a similar shooting effort in the 2013 season opener. But this time the result was different.
"Opening game last year we outshot UAB 13-1 in the second half and lost that game," Greene said. "So we did what we needed to do. We grinded it out, held onto the lead late. I'm proud of our kids. They deserved it 100 percent."
In fact, Vanderbilt could have been the team trailing at halftime if not for a superb defensive stop.
After a Vanderbilt turnover, Mercer (0-1_ had a chance at a breakaway but senior Taylor Richardsonstormed back on defense, delivered a great sliding tackle and knocked the ball away to smother a potential shot.
"We literally watched this exact situation on video yesterday in their game last year against Alabama," Greene said. "We told our kids, 'Hey, if we give it away, you have to get back and you have to work. She put it in, made the effort, won the tackle and kept the game at 0-0 when they could have possibly gone up 1-0. So it was an outstanding effort by her."
The Commodores don't have much time to celebrate.
On Saturday afternoon, they board a plane heading for New Jersey, where they'll play Rutgers at noon on Sunday. The Scarlet Knights won 13 games last year and reached the NCAA Tournament. They picked up a 3-1 win over Stony Brook in their season opener on Friday night. Including their two exhibition games - both wins - over West Virginia and Villanova, the Scarlet Knights have scored 11 goals. So Greene expects a test for his defense and his entire team in the first meeting on the soccer field between the schools.
It will also be a homecoming for several Northeastern players. Junior Andie Lakin and freshmen Colby Ciarrocca and Christiana Ogunsami, who started in goal, all hail from New Jersey. Nine players hail from the Northeastern states of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Maryland and New Hampshire.
"This will be a great challenge for us. Rutgers is an outstanding team," Greene said. "They've got some offensive firepower. We don't really know what to expect. It is early on in the year. We want to go in and continue to do what we do well. But an NCAA Tournament team last year - outstanding team with great players and a phenomenal coaching staff. Excited to take a lot of our kids from the Northeast back up that way. I know they're excited to get back up that way."