July 1, 2014
Playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country, Vanderbilt women's soccer coach Derek Greene wants to prepare his team with a formidable non-conference schedule.
Greene believes he has struck that balance with the 2014 schedule.
The Commodores released their 19-game schedule for the 2014 season, which includes nine games at home at the VU Soccer/Lacrosse Complex. Vanderbilt will play eight games out of conference, before diving into a gauntlet of 11 SEC games.
Vanderbilt will play six teams - five from the SEC - that reached the NCAA Tournament in 2013. Rutgers, one of those NCAA Tournament teams, and Lipscomb will play the Commodores for the first time in program history.
Greene believes the tests out of conference over the first four weeks will prepare his team for the second half of the season.
"When you play in a conference as tough as the SEC, you have to make sure you have a tremendous balance between that league schedule and your non-conference schedule. And I think we've created a tremendous balance," said Greene, who begins his fourth year as head coach. "It gives our kids an opportunity to see some opponents we don't typically play. All the teams we have scheduled in the non-conference are pretty much teams that have tremendous success or they are growing programs right now kind of like we are."
Vanderbilt's non-conference tilts include Mercer, Cincinnati, Lipscomb and UT-Chattanooga at home, and Rutgers, Memphis, Rice and North Texas on the road.
The Commodores open the season at home on Friday, Aug. 22 against Mercer before flying up to New Jersey the next day to play Rutgers for the programs' first meeting on Aug. 24. The Scarlet Knights went 13-4-5 last year, reaching the American Athletic Conference championship game and losing to West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Another AAC foe, Cincinnati, will meet Vanderbilt back in Nashville on Aug. 29. The Commodores begin a three-game road trip with their third and final AAC opponent, in-state foe Memphis, on Aug. 31. The Tigers won 13 games last year and just missed out on an NCAA Tournament berth. Vanderbilt leads the all-time series 3-2, including a 2-1 win in Nashville last August as SEC All-Freshman Simone Charley struck the game-winning goal in the second half.
A pair of Conference USA opponents await in Texas the following weekend. Vanderbilt looks to avenge a 3-2 loss to Rice last year when it arrives in Houston on Sept. 5. Two days later, the Commodores will head up the state to play North Texas on Sept. 7. The Mean Green collected 14 wins in 2013 and finished second in their division.
"When you look at schools like Rutgers, Memphis, Rice and North Texas, those are all teams that have been to the NCAA Tournament recently and they are teams that are going to pose great challenges for us," Greene said. "They are very good teams in their leagues so it does provide the opportunity for us to prepare ourselves for a very difficult SEC schedule."
Vanderbilt ends non-conference play at home with games against Lipscomb (Sept. 12) and UT-Chattanooga (Sept. 14). The Commodores have never met Lipscomb on the pitch and last played Chattanooga in 2003.
"We're excited about that to provide our fans more of a regional, in-state opportunity to see some teams play that we're close to," Greene said. "I think that is a really fun thing for us and a fun thing for our kids and the fans."
The road gets tougher from there when SEC action begins. The league sent six teams (Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Texas A&M) to the NCAA Tournament last year, with all six winning their first game. Arkansas and Texas A&M, both on Vanderbilt's schedule this fall, reached the quarterfinals.
Vanderbilt will host Auburn, Alabama, Texas A&M and South Carolina and hit the road to play Georgia, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Florida.
Vanderbilt opens league play on Sunday, Sept. 21 at Georgia. It will be the first of three games in which Vanderbilt will be televised on the brand new SEC Network. The Commodores will also be showcased on the network when they host Texas A&M on Oct. 10 and to end the regular season at Florida on Oct. 30.
"When you look at the SEC in every sport it is extremely difficult and women's soccer is no different," Greene said. "Case in point, six teams get in the NCAA Tournament last year and all six advancing to (at least) the second round. It poses a great challenge for us. Opening on the road at Georgia is no easy task. They were on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. They are very well coached. That will be a huge challenge for us to open on the road in league play. It is a great conference with great coaches and great players. It makes it a lot of fun to compete at this level. It is a great opportunity for us."
The Commodores are coming off a successful spring season in which they went into the final minutes against Virginia Tech, a Final Four squad in 2013, and Ole Miss tied before falling short. Vanderbilt returns 21 players, including SEC All-Freshman and the team's top returning scorer Simone Charley, from a team that went 4-12-3 last fall.