On Sunday the Tennessee Lady Volunteers (6-1-1) will travel west down I-40 to take on their in state rival, the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-1).
Tennessee has had one of the most impressive offensive units in collegiate soccer, with just under 15 shots per game, and just under three goals per game, 2.43 to be exact. They have also had 18 goals, with 10 different players scoring for the Lady Vols.
“It’s really, really good knowing SEC play is coming up soon,” senior Katie Cousins said of her team’s offensive strength. “You need to be able to score goals, and the more people we can have contributing to that, the better.”
The team’s head coach, Brian Pensky, shared those sentiments.
“It is awesome, and it is exactly what we need,” said Pensky, when asked about his teams depth. “We don’t have Bunny Shaw on our team anymore, we don’t have Danielle Marcano anymore, so we gotta find goals wherever we can get them.”
Vanderbilt will be no easy challenge for the Lady Vols though. Despite Tennessee’s outrageous numbers, Vanderbilt has seemingly one upped the Lady Vols numbers heading into the matchup.
The Commodores have racked up 21 goals this season, just three more than Tennessee, and have averaged 2.62 goals per game. They also come into the matchup ranked 17th in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, while Tennessee has fallen out of the top 25.
“We’re pretty confident,” senior striker MA Vignola said of her team’s preparation for SEC play. “The SEC is a really good conference, and we’re ready to go. These preseason games, this is what got us ready for SEC play this season, so we’re ready.”
The Commodores were able to top them last year with a score of 3-1. Their head coach, Darren Ambrose, has defeated Tennessee four times during his tenure in Nashville, taking his record to 4-0-1 against the Lady Vols.
Vanderbilt also has a very stout defense. They have held their opponents to just 3.9 shots per game, having only allowed 31 shots through their eight games. They have also only allowed three goals on the whole season.
This will be a tough test for Tennessee’s offense. They have not performed well against teams that are very ball-dominant.
“Sometimes the best defense is a good offense,” coach Pensky said before his team's road trip to Massachusetts. The Lady Vols drew the game 3-3, and Tennessee’s one loss was to #13 Rutgers, both ball dominant offenses.
Tennessee’s dominating offense has seemingly gotten better as the season has gone on. This Vanderbilt matchup will be the beginning of a tough conference schedule. The Lady Vols are well equipped to take on this challenge, but they will need to control the ball and show toughness against this challenging team.
“Obviously that’s become a real rivalry,” Pensky said of his team’s relationship with Vanderbilt. “It’s a great program; they do a great job over there, and they beat us out [to be] the SEC regular season champion a year ago. Our kids respect that program, and we’re gonna be excited to play in their place on Sunday.”
Tennessee faces a question for their starting goalkeeper going into this Sunday’s matchup. Freshman keeper Lindsey Romig is nursing a minor injury, and has been out for the last three games. She warmed up for the team’s last game against UC Davis, but did not play.
“Lindsey’s getting closer,” Pensky said of his freshman keeper’s injury. “We believe in both keepers. What we do on Sunday, I don’t know.”
Tennessee’s redshirt-sophomore goalie, Charli Pogany, has started the last three games. She has allowed six goals on the season compared to Romig’s clean sheet, but has notched 11 saves this year.
Sunday will be a game full of questions and answers for Tennessee and the rest of the SEC, but the Lady Vols are focused and ready for this matchup.
“It's going to be a tough one; Vandy’s a good team, but we'll be ready,” MA Vignola said of the matchup.