Nov. 8, 2008
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. - After advancing to its first SEC Tournament final since 2005, the University of Tennessee women's soccer team is set to take on No. 4 seed Georgia in the championship match. The sixth-seeded Lady Vols will meet the Bulldogs for the second time in just over a week, looking to secure the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The Orange and White advanced to the final after topping LSU in penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw in the semfinal. UT has now played in six overtime matches at the SEC Tournament, advancing three times on penalties. Sophomore defender Grace Cuenin scored Tennessee's only goal in the match, while senior keeper Jaimel Johnson stopped two penalties in the shootout. With the 4-2 shootout win, the Lady Vols will play in their fifth tournament title match.
Tennessee reached the semifinal after upsetting No. 3 seed Auburn in the first round, 2-1. The Big Orange used goals from sophomore forward Tanya Emerson and junior forward Mick Imgram to get redemption over the Tigers who had beaten UT in double overtime on Oct. 26.
Georgia and the Lady Vols will meet for the second time in just over a week in the final. The Bulldogs notched a 2-0 victory over Tennessee on Senior Night at Regal Stadium on Oct. 31. UGA has taken two straight matches from UT, including its win in 2007 that prevented the Orange and White from securing the SEC East and overall titles. The two squads have met just once before in the SEC Tournament. The Big Orange posted a 1-0 win over the Bulldogs in a first round matchup in 2002.
The Bulldogs enter the final with an 11-9-1 overall record after posting wins over No. 5 South Carolina and No. 1 Florida in the first two rounds of the tournament. In the semifinal, Georgia put together a commanding performance against the Gators, who had previously won 13 straight matches.
The winner of the title match will take the SEC's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee will be looking to earn its fourth SEC Championship and its eighth consecutive berth in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
The Lady Vols and Bulldogs are set to get underway at 2:30 p.m. CT in the 2008 SEC Tournament final. The match will be televised live on FOX Sports South with Bernie Guenther and Jenn Hildreth on the call. Live statistics will also be available at utladyvols.com.
The Tournament So Far
Sixth-seeded Tennessee worked hard to earn its spot in the SEC Tournament final. First, the Lady Vols tackled third-seeded Auburn before battling with No. 2 LSU in Friday's semifinal.
Meeting Auburn for the second time in two weeks, the Orange and White got redemption after falling to the Tigers in the regular season, with a 2-1 victory on Wednesday afternoon. UT got on the board just two minutes into the match when sophomore midfielder Devon Swaim played a ball into the slot where sophomore forward Tanya Emerson connected with a one-timer for the early 1-0 lead. Junior forward Mick Imgram scored the eventual game winner for the Lady Vols in the 57th minute. The Clifton, Va., native blasted a rocket of a shot to the far post from 20 yards out on the right side, finding the back of the net for the 2-0 lead. Though the Tigers converted on a penalty in the 62nd minute, UT held on to advance to its first semifinal since 2006.
Awaiting the Orange and White in the semifinal was LSU. Though Tennessee topped the Tigers 2-1 during the regular season, LSU had captured a share of the SEC West crown and won seven of nine matches since that match.
The Lady Vols scored first again, as Emerson teamed up with sophomore defender Grace Cuenin to find the back of the net in the 20th minute. Emerson's corner found Cuenin in the box where she poked in a shot past LSU keeper Mo Isom who had come off her line on the corner kick. The goal was the first of Cuenin's career and marked the second straight match in which Emerson recorded a point. Both teams battled back and forth until the Tigers scored the equalizer in the 54th minute. From there the defenses held strong, as the two squads played to a 1-1 draw through 110 minutes.
The subsequent penalty kick shootout saw Tennessee senior keeper Jaimel Johnson stop two LSU shots, while the Lady Vols converted on four of five to advance, 4-2. The match marked the sixth that went to extra time for UT at the SEC Tournament and the thid time the Lady Vols have advanced in the tournament on penalty kicks.
Out of the Woodworks
With senior forward and four-time team leading scorer Kylee Rossi out with an injury, the Lady Vols have needed some new faces to step up on offense to get the job done. Step up they have, as sophomores Tanya Emerson, Grace Cuenin and Devon Swaim and junior Mick Imgram have shown their stuff in the last two matches.
After going nine matches without a goal, Imgram provided the game winner on Wednesday's win over Auburn. Playing at forward, Imgram created havoc in the Tiger backline throughout the match, and beat keeper Allison Whitworth from 20 yards for the score.
Playing up top next to Imgram has been Emerson, who has played almost every field position for Tennessee this season. Despite finishing 2007 as the Lady Vols' fourth-leading scorer, Emerson had yet to notch a point, until Wednesday. Needless to say, Emerson has picked a fantastic time to step up, as she's notched a goal and an assist in the last two matches.
With her goal in Friday's draw with LSU, Cuenin may have jump started the final step in her transformation from rarely-used walk-on to legitimate center back for Tennessee. After playing in just seven matches last season as a midfielder, Cuenin has worked to earn a spot as one of UT's starting center backs where she has made numerous plays to keep opponents off the scorebard this year. As a target in the air on corner kicks, Cuenin has started to come into her own in the box and demsontrated that fact with her goal against the Tigers.
As Tennessee's second-leading scorer, Swaim may not have come out of nowhere, but she has definitely elevated her play ever since the start of the conference season. Swaim has recorded at least one point in six of the last 10 matches, posting three goals and four assists during that span.
Orange Beach Overture
Tennessee is competing in its 12th SEC Tournament in program history and its 10th straight. The Lady Vols have compiled an 11-8-3 record all-time in the event, winning three titles and earning 16 selections to the All-Tournament Team.
UT will play in its first SEC Tournament title match since 2005. The Lady Vols are 2-1-1 all-time in the tournament final, capturing its last championship in 2005 with a 1-0 win over Auburn. Tennessee appeared in each of the title games between 2002 and 2005, topping Florida twice, once in regulation and once on penalties, and Auburn once.
Tennessee and Georgia will meet for just the second time in tournament history on Sunday. The last time the two squads faced off in the tournament was in the 2002 first round when UT recorded a 1-0 victory. Georgia will make its third final appearance and second straight after falling to Florida 4-1 in 2007. The Bulldogs topped No. 5 seed South Carolina and the No. 1-seeded Gators to reach the final. This year marks just the second time in program history that Florida has not reached the championship match.
The fourth-seeded Bulldogs enter the championship match with an 11-9-1 overall record and have won four straight matches. Georgia topped No. 5 seed South Carolina, 2-1, in Wednesday's first round before toppling No. 1 Florida, 3-0, in the semifinal, snapping the Gators' 13-match winning streak.
Junior forward Carrie Patterson leads the Bulldogs in scoring, notching eight goals and five assists for 21 points. Patterson has been on fire of late, scoring three goals in the past three matches, including two in the win over UT. Freshman forward Ashley Miller and senior defender Megan Tomlinson have also contributed for Georgia, combining for 21 points. Tomlinson has notched at least one point in each of the last four matches.
Defensively, junior keeper Michelle Betos paced the SEC with five blank sheets during conference play and boasts a 1.21 goals against average. In the semifinal, the Flushing, N.Y., native became the first keeper to hold seventh-ranked Florida scoreless since Sept. 19. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Tomlinson leads a backline that has allowed just five goals in the last 10 matches, helping UGA win eight games during that span.
The Bulldogs and Lady Vols have met 15 times in program history, with Tennessee holding a 9-7 advantage all-time. The Orange and White have not scored a goal against Georgia since 2006, dropping back-to-back matches during the regular season. Just over a week ago, UT fell to the Bulldogs, 2-0, with Patterson notching both goals in the win.
The two squads have met just once in the SEC Tournament, with Tennessee earning a 1-0 win in the first round in 2002. Georgia is 9-10-1 all-time in the tournament and will play in its second straight final after enduring a seven year drought after its first appearance in 2000.
UGA Head Coach Patrick Baker is 51-27-5 during his tenure with the Bulldogs. Baker led Georgia to its best season in program history and its first NCAA berth since 2003 last season.
Baird Named to SEC Community Service Team
Molly Baird was named to the Southeastern Conference Community Service Team for the second consecutive year on Friday. The redshirt sophomore goalkeeper joins 11 players from the other SEC schools on the team which highlights an athlete from each school who gives back to their community in superior service efforts.
Baird has been a major presence in the Knoxville community throughout her Lady Vol career and over the past year she has again been a leader in on- and off-campus service projects. Active in Tennessee's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Baird worked to publicize last year's Holiday Dinner for the Homeless and to organize September's SAAC canned food drive for the Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee.
The Raleigh, N.C., native has also become involved in several projects to benefit children in the Knoxville area. Last holiday season, she helped organize a Fellowship of Christian Athletes/Athletes In Action campaign to provide Christmas gifts for underprivileged children in Knoxville. Baird also has made visits with her teammates to the East Tennessee Children's Hospital and volunteers regularly at UT's youth soccer clinics.
Baird also has read to children with her teammates to promote reading and volunteers at an elementary school with the Lady Vol strength and conditioning staff to promote healthy lifestyles among students.
After serving her time as a backup to All-American Jaimel Johnson, Baird will get her chance to win the starting spot for Tennessee in 2009. In her second appearance as a Lady Vol, Baird helped UT to a 5-0 shutout of Chattanooga to open the 2008 season. As a prep athlete, Baird was a five-year member of the Region III Olympic Development Program team and led her high school squad to four straight appearances in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A title game, winning three titles.
The SEC's Finest
Three Lady Vols were named to the 2008 All-SEC and All-Freshman Teams on Wednesday. Seniors Kylee Rossi and Jaimel Johnson earned spots on the first and second teams, respectively, while Chelsea Hatcher was selected for the All-Freshman Team.
A native of Pennington, N.J., Rossi led the SEC in scoring in 2008 with 13 goals, including nine during conference play. She accounted for all but five of the Lady Vols' goals and posted two game winners during the league campaign. The forward also set a UT record this season, becoming the program's career points leader on Oct. 5. The selection is the fourth of Rossi's career and her third straight to the first team.
In her third season as Tennessee's starting keeper, Johnson has recorded a 1.49 goals against average during conference play, shutting out two opponents and recording 40 saves. The Dayton, Ohio, native played every minute in goal for the Orange and White this SEC season, recording five wins. Johnson currently holds the No. 2 spot in career shutouts, saves and goals against average at UT.
Since the start of conference play, Hatcher has become a presence in the Lady Vol midfield. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native tied for third on the team with 22 shots during SEC play, helping the Orange and White lead the league in shots. Though she has yet to find the back of the net during her young career, Hatcher has come on strong of late, earning a spot in the starting midfield and playing at least 80 minutes in each of the last four matches.