March 2, 2014
PALO ALTO, Calif. – A long slump ended in a big way on Sunday.
Senior captain Abby Wheeler scored a career-high seven goals, including two in the last 34 seconds of overtime, to lift Vanderbilt over No. 13 Stanford with a 16-15 victory.
The Commodores overcame a five-goal deficit in the second half and rallied once again in overtime to defeat a ranked opponent for the first time since April 1, 2012. Vanderbilt (3-2) had lost 15 straight against ranked foes.
“We didn’t really want let them take what we viewed as our win away from us,” Wheeler said. “We had come back from that five-goal deficit and been in control of the momentum all game. I think that is what really helped us make that final push and have that confidence to come through in the clutch – just knowing that we worked for it for 60 minutes. It was really, really fun. … Everybody contributed to make today’s win possible.”
The Commodores trailed Stanford 14-9 with 15:07 left. But Wheeler sparked the comeback with her fifth goal of the day. Emma Dagres sandwiched two goals around freshman Caroline Peters’ free position goal. With 4:21 remaining Kelly Chandler scored to tie the game at 14.
Vanderbilt fended off Stanford’s chances to force overtime and didn’t allow the Cardinal to get a final shot off in regulation. With 2:41 left, senior captain Brandi Byner caused a turnover by Stanford’s Kelsey Murray. Byner picked up the ground ball and the Commodores ran out the clock.
“I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to have your team listen to what you tell them and have them execute it exactly how you tell them,” said coach Cathy Swezey, who took the team to Cold Stone Creamery and made good on a promise to take her team out for celebratory ice cream if the Commodores won.
“It is so gratifying to see our kids know what it means to work hard and actually get the win,” Swezey said. “To know they can be pleased with their efforts and have it mean something. Sometimes hard work doesn’t pay off. In this case it did. I’m just so happy for them. Our whole staff, we just keep taking breaths of fresh air. We’re really pleased.”
In overtime, Stanford (2-1) scored at the 3:25 mark on a free position goal by Rachel Ozer. As time dwindled away, the Commodores stayed calm and twice executed plays the team had worked on in practice.
Wheeler scored on a pass from Mallory Schonk with 34 seconds left. With Schonk standing behind the net, she snapped a pass to Wheeler, who cut to the goal and fired a shot that “somehow went in.”
Chandler then won the ensuing draw control – matching a career high with her fifth of the day. She fed the ball to Schonk, who once again found Wheeler running toward the goal. Wheeler delivered again – the game-winner with 15 seconds left and her team-leading 14th goal of the season.
“What made it so incredible was that in the past we’ve come back and gotten really close,” Wheeler said. “This time we were able to put the final nail in the coffin and actually come out as winners. That was huge for us because in the past we’ve come close to a lot of teams and not come out with the win. Coming away and not just competing but winning was a really big deal for us.”
It was a tremendous comeback by the ‘Dores, who took an 8-7 lead into halftime when Schonk scored with five seconds left in the first half. It marked the first time this season the Commodores had been on the scoring side of a last minute, first-half goal. In their first four games, they had allowed at least one goal in the final minute of the opening half.
Momentum changed hands after halftime as the Cardinal burst out of the break with six straight goals to take a 13-8 lead. Swezey called timeout and settled down her team.
“There weren’t magic formulas when we called that second timeout – I just told them to calm down,” Swezey said. “We were down by five and I could see their body language starting to fall into an old habit. I’m like, ‘No, no, no, we’ve got this. Calm down. Relax.’ It was almost like hypnotizing them. They just had to believe they could come back. All of a sudden you could see the weight fall off their shoulders. It was like, ‘Oh, yeah. OK. We can do it.’ And then they did. We literally chipped away.”
Vanderbilt regrouped to win its second road game of the season. The Commodores also surpassed their win total of the 2013 season.
Wheeler’s day will go down as one of the best in program history. She was a perfect seven-for-seven on shot attempts and scored seven goals for the first time since high school. Wheeler’s previous career high in college was four goals last year in the final game of the season against Penn State.
Her seven goals are the second-most in a single game in program history. Sue Napolitano scored a program-best eight goals on March 25, 1996 against Virginia Tech in the first year of the program. It is also the most by a Commodore since Ally Carey scored six in a game in 2010.
“She had a ridiculous week of practice,” Swezey said. “Several times this week I went up to her and said, ‘You are feeling it. You are on your game right now.’ I think early in the week we had a meeting and I think she had been putting too much pressure on herself. Maybe carrying the weight of the team on her back a little bit too much. I told her, ‘Let go, and just play.’ And she did that. Her performance today really reflected her practices the last five days. I’m not surprised by it but it was great to see.”
Schonk tied a career high with five assists for the second time this season to go along with a goal. Chandler scored three times. Amanda Lockwood, who missed last game due to an injury, came off the bench and scored twice. Dagres also added two goals in her second start of the season.
Freshman Callahan Kent played a career-high 31-plus minutes, replacing starter Maddie Kratz. In her second appearance of the season, Kent made one save and allowed four goals.
“Maddie is an exceptional goalie and one of the most athletic goalies I’ve coached,” Swezey said. “You know what? She was just a little bit off today. She fully accepted it on the sidelines. She was not down or beating herself up. She had a bit of an off day and we decided to take that chance with Cal and she did a great job. She had a high save late in the second half. It was a big save. The kid had a good look at the goal and she came up with it. It sparked the defense and the whole unit.”
The Commodores stay out west as they head to the Mile High City to play No. 18 Denver at 3 p.m. (CST) on Wednesday.