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Commodores fall to Penn State in second round

5 days ago
Vanderbilt Athletics
Photo: Vanderbilt Athletics

CARY, N.C. - A battle through and through, 16th-seeded Vanderbilt dropped a 2-0 decision to ninth-ranked Penn State on Saturday afternoon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at WakeMed Soccer Park.

"I'm disappointed with the result but I'm not unhappy with the effort at all," said head coach Darren Ambrose. "We carried the game for the majority of it, created well in the first half and probably should've been up a goal or two. That was the difference in the game. They had one chance and were clinical, it changed the game and the corner kick goal was the icing on the cake for them. Until that point, they hadn't really threatened us a whole lot.

"Possession wise and generating chances in the final third was quite good, but playing two games in seven weeks didn't help and we lacked some quality where we really needed it. As the game wore on when we had to chase, we just didn't have the legs and you can't do anything about that. When you play two games in seven weeks, we didn't really have game fitness and it showed in the second half which we were afraid it might do. Credit to Penn State, they were clinical and defensively pretty organized but I'm proud of the effort and the product we put out there. The experience for us is still beneficial long term and gives us a little bit of fire for next year in the fall to be back in this position."

The Commodores, ranked No. 10 in the Top Drawer Soccer poll entering the game, finish the extended 2020-21 season with a 9-6-1 record. The journey included the program's first SEC Tournament title since 1994 and a fourth-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, one in which Vanderbilt earned a seed in the tournament for the first time in program history.

Both teams had their chances throughout, but it was Penn State (12-2-1) that got the scoring started in the 63rd minute. With Penn State on the break, Rachel Wasserman centered a ball from the left side just inside the top of the box and Kristin Schnurr one-touched her chance to the right side of goal over an extended keeper to go up 1-0.

With the Commodores looking for the equalizer, Penn State earned a corner kick against the run of play and capitalized when a header by Sam Coffey bounced off the right post but fell right to Eva Alonso in close. She put the chance away from point-blank range to put the Nittany Lions up 2-0.

Vanderbilt nearly took a 1-0 lead in the opening 30 minutes when Raegan Kelley drilled the crossbar in the 26th minute. Down the stretch, the Commodores had looks but Penn State's defense stood tall to preserve the win.

"It's been a long year. A real long year," Ambrose said. "As I said to the girls after the game, to weather the things we have done, it's shown us we're all capable as people of dealing with greater challenges and adversity in our lives than we realize we can. To be in this tournament with a trophy to our name and a fourth straight year in the NCAA Tournament under these conditions is pretty special. It's a testament to the character of our kids and our staff and all the people at Vanderbilt who have helped us continue to move this program forward. Even though it wasn't the result we wanted it's still a step forward and in this year and this climate, to walk away with a good performance and one we can be proud of is something we'll always be proud of."

With the loss, Vanderbilt sends a handful of student-athletes on to their next chapters with graduation coming up later this month.

"The sad part of this is saying goodbye to all the seniors," Ambrose said. "Every year the team changes, you lose personalities and that's the hard part this time of year. It's tough to see them all move on but it's also part of the natural cycle of college athletics. It brings to an end an era, but grateful for all they have brought to us for four years. They have obviously had a significant impact in the dynamic and cultural health of our program and we're grateful for them and thank them for their hard work."