Nov. 8, 2008
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. - After playing to a 1-1 draw through 110 minutes of play, the University of Tennessee women's soccer team and LSU went to a penalty kick shootout where the Lady Vols advanced 4-2. Sixth-seeded UT will meet No. 4 Georgia, which defeated No. 1-seeded Florida in the semifinals, in Sunday's SEC Tournament final.
"I'm very proud of our team for battling for the entire game and overtime and penalty kicks," UT Head Coach Angela Kelly said. "To be honest, this is not a fun way to win. I think LSU did a great job and battled. It went back and forth. Both teams gave everything they had. Now we just have to enjoy this for an hour or two, get lots of rest and then focus for Sunday."
UT kicked first in the shootout. Senior midfielder Alissa VonderHaar stepped up to convert on the first penalty. Junior midfielder and SEC Offensive Player of the Year Malorie Rutledge took LSU's first shot, which Lady Vol senior keeper Jaimel Johnson stopped to give UT a 1-0 lead. The second round of shots came from Big Orange junior midfielder Mick Imgram and Tiger midfielder Melissa Clarke, who both converted.
"When the overtime finished, Jaimel said she was glad it went to overtime," Kelly said. "She's just a gamer. I've said it a million times; she's the best goalkeeper in the country. She's a great shot stopper. To save two penalties and almost get her hand on another, she's amazing. I'm just so grateful, and have been for four years, that she chose Tennessee."
The third round of shooters saw Tennessee sophomore midfielder Tanya Emerson found the back of the net, before Johnson blocked her second penalty of the shootout to give UT a 3-1 advantage. Though LSU keeper Mo Isom stopped senior midfielder Leslie Vineyard's shot and Tiger freshman defender Brittany Potts converted, the Lady Vols only needed to make the final shot to advance. Freshman midfielder Chelsea Hatcher stepped to the penalty spot and placed her shot in the lower left corner push UT into the final.
"On penalty kicks, the goalkeeper always has the advantage because there's no pressure on them," Johnson said. "They always say that goalkeepers aren't really supposed to make a save on penalty kicks, so when you do it's a bonus. I love penalty kicks and I love pressure situations. I told my team that if they did their part, I'd do my part and make a save."
The game marked the sixth overtime match in tournament history for the Orange and White, which advanced on penalties for the third time in program history at the event. The Lady Vols are now 3-0-3 in extra time at the SEC Tournament.
Both teams played hard through the 110 minutes of regulation play. The first half saw the Lady Vols open with several scoring chances before taking a 1-0 lead into halftime. The Orange and White notched three strikes in the first half, putting two on goal and forcing Isom to make one save.
Tennessee got on the board first, as sophomore defender Grace Cuenin put away the first goal of her career off a corner kick from fellow sophomore Tanya Emerson. The kick came into the box in the 20th minute and deflected to Cuenin who took advantage of LSU keeper Mo Isom being off the line, poking a shot into the back of the net.
The goal was the second chance Tennessee had off a corner kick in the first half. Eight minutes into the match, Cuenin and Emerson nearly teamed up as Cuenin's header on the Lady Vols' second corner went wide right.
The Tigers had a good chance of their own late in the first frame when Michelle Makasini blasted a shot that was blocked in the box by sophomore defender Melissa Speros. LSU posted four shots in the half but put just one on frame.
Both teams came out of the half looking to score, however the Tigers were the only side to find the back of the net in the second frame. Though UT notched the first three shots of the half, LSU made the most of its first strike as forward Roslyn Jones knocked in a goal from five yards on a cross from midfielder Melissa Clarke for the equalizer in the 54th minute.
From there, the two squads traded chances over the final 36 minutes of regulation. Just one minute after the LSU goal, sophomore midfielder Devon Swaim nearly gave UT a 2-1 advantage on a one-timer from five yards, but the shot went straight into the arms of Isom. Ten minutes later, Tigers forward Rachel Yepez blasted a dipping shot that went just high, hitting off the top of the crossbar.
With seven minutes left in regulation, freshman defender Hannah Hut cleared a cross that was headed into the box to end an LSU scoring threat, while Tennessee had its best opportunity of the final 20 minutes when Hatcher broke through the defense and placed a shot that clanged off the far post before the rebound was cleared in the 88th minute.
With the score knotted at 1-1, the two squads played two 10-minute overtimes that resulted in five shots between the teams. Tennessee dominated play for a majority of the extra periods, but could not find the back of the net. Sophomore midfielder Julie Edwards had the Lady Vols' best chance of the first overtime when her shot in the 99th minute blasted off Isom, but was cleared away by an LSU defender.
"The team battled for the entire 110 minutes plus penalty kicks," Johnson said. "The fight and the heart were apparent all over the field. Even though we didn't connect on some passes, or didn't score on some of the shots we should have, every person on the field and everybody off the bench battled the full 110 minutes."
Tennessee finished the match with a 12-11 advantage in shooting, while Johnson made two saves during the course of play. The Lady Vols put seven shots on goal, with Isom making six saves in the match.
The shootout victory places the Orange and White in its fifth SEC Tournament final in program history. The last time Tennessee played for the SEC Championship was in 2005, when it topped Auburn, 1-0, to secure the Triple Crown. The Lady Vols are 2-1-1 all-time in tournament finals, capturing three titles.
"I'm excited for Sunday, just to play Georgia and have a shot at the SEC Championship," Johnson said. "Coach Kelly always talks about how this season could be the most satisfying for us, even though it didn't start out that great. It's about how you finish, not how you start."
The Big Orange will take on Georgia in the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2002, when it notched a 1-0 win in the first round. The match will see the teams meet for the second time in just over a week after the Bulldogs topped UT on Senior Night at Regal Stadium on Oct. 31. The Lady Vols are 9-6-0 all-time against UGA.
Tennessee and Georgia are scheduled to meet at 2:30 p.m. CT in the SEC Tournament Final on Sunday. The match will be televised live on FOX Sports South with Jenn Hildreth and Bernie Guenther on the call. Live statistics will also be available at utladyvols.com.