Aug. 21, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After a quick preseason, optimism reigns supreme as the 2014 soccer season kicks off on Friday.
Vanderbilt opens at 7 p.m. on Friday at home against Mercer in a game that will be broadcast on SEC Network +. The Commodores enter their 28th season in program history and look to rebound from a 4-12-3 campaign in 2013.
Twenty-one letterwinners return, including nine starters, and a promising group of freshmen arrive. Together, this, along with strong team chemistry, gives fourth-year head coach Derek Greene and the Commodores hope heading into the season opener.
The preseason, which included a getaway whitewater rafting trip, began just 16 days ago. But in two weeks Greene feels positive about the growth and potential of his group, which built off a productive spring season.
In their lone exhibition game against UAB on Aug. 14, the Commodores picked up a 1-0 victory. In a game Vanderbilt dominated with a 24-3 shot differential, Simone Charley, an SEC All-Freshman selection a year ago, delivered the game-winning goal with 5:17 left.
Looking ahead, Vanderbilt is trying to continue its string of recent success in season openers. In the past eight years, the Commodores are 5-1-2, with the only loss in that stretch coming last year against UAB.
Vanderbilt is 6-2 all-time against Mercer. The teams last met on Aug. 28, 2009 with the Commodores winning 2-0. The Bears went 10-8-3 in 2013 and were 4-3-2 in Southern Conference play. They are led by third-year head coach Tony Economopoulous, who returns 20 letterwinners and eight starters.
The Commodores bring a wealth of experience for a team full of freshmen and sophomores, which count for 16 of the squad’s 30 players.
Twenty-one letterwinners return from 2013, including nine starters. The trio of forward/defender Kelsey Tillman, defender Cherrelle Jarrett and midfielder Erin Myers (a team captain) started all 19 games.
SEC All-Freshman forward Simone Charley started 16 of 17 games before suffering a MCL sprain. Forward/midfielder Sasha Gray started 18 of 19 games. Midfielders Jamie Kator and Andie Lakin each made 16 starts. Defender Taylor Richardson made 14 starts. As a freshman, Olivia Liebman started 13 games in goal after Alexa Levick suffered an ACL injury.
SEC PLAYERS TO WATCH
Three Commodores were tabbed as SEC preseason players to watch — sophomores Simone Charley and Sasha Gray and redshirt freshman Lydia Simmons.
Charley, from Hoover, Ala., was an All-SEC Freshman selection in 2013 and returns as the team’s top scorer after recording five goals along with dishing out five assists. Gray, a native of Nesconset, N.Y., had three goals and two assists. Simmons, a Londonderry, N.H., native, sat out 2013 as she recovered from a high school injury.
As a team, the Commodores were picked to finish 13th in the league by the SEC coaches. They finished ahead of Mississippi State, which VU defeated for its lone conference win of 2013.
After a stellar first year in which she earned SEC All-Freshman honors, forward Simone Charley picked up where she left off in an exhibition victory over UAB.
Charley, a two-sport athlete and All-American in the triple jump, accounted for nearly half of the team’s 24 shots. The Hoover, Ala., native fired off 10 shots, five on goal, and scored the game-winner with 5:17 left to unknot a scoreless tie.
Charley returns as the team’s top scorer and points leader after scoring five goals, dishing out five assists and notching 15 points. She kept busy in the spring, too, by breaking the school record five times in the triple jump. She finished ninth at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships to earn second team All-American honors. At the USATF Junior Championship in June, she broke the school record again with a leap of 43-2.5 to finish third.
FRESHMAN TRIO JUMPS INTO EXHIBITION
Freshman Christiana Ogunsami started in goal for the Commodores in a 1-0 victory in an exhibition game over UAB on Aug. 14. Ogunsami, an all-conference and all-regional goalkeeper at Cherry Hill West High School in New Jersey, had just three shots fired her way. The 5-foot-10 Ogunsami made one save in the shutout.
Along with Ogunsami, freshmen Colby Ciarrocca and Cristina De Zeeuw logged 50 and 58 minutes, respectively, against UAB. Both players came off the bench and impressed coach Derek Greene in their debuts. De Zeeuw, a three-time all-state midfielder from Overland Park, Kan., was ranked as 32nd among high school recruits in the IMG Academy 150. Ciarrocca, a high school All-American forward from Montgomery, N.J., was tabbed as the 82nd best player in the country.
SEC NETWORK SPOTLIGHT
All nine of Vanderbilt’s home games will be aired on either the new SEC Network or SEC Network +, the digital platform that broadcasts games online.
Friday’s season opener against Mercer will be aired on SEC Network +. All season long, local radio personality Kevin Ingram will provide the call. Vanderbilt alum and former soccer standout Megan Forester will serve as the color analyst. The Hendersonville native played for the Commodores from 2006-09.
In addition, three regular-season games will be broadcast on the SEC Network, which is based out of Charlotte, N.C. Vanderbilt’s SEC opener at Georgia on Sept. 21, home game against Texas A&M on Oct. 10 and regular-season finale at Florida on Oct. 30 will be aired on the SEC Network.
The Commodores were a part of the SEC Network’s first day on Aug. 14. The network offered live look-ins of the exhibition game against UAB (which was broadcast in its entirety on SEC Network +). A festive crowd, which included the pep band, spirit squad and football team, added to the atmosphere as SEC Network reporter Jessica Mendoza dropped in to interview football coach Derek Mason, men’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings and baseball coach Tim Corbin, who led the Commodores to a national championship in June.