For the first time in program history, the Tennessee soccer team is heading to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
The Vols (16-2-3) made reservations for the quarterfinals on Sunday night at Regal Stadium, beating the Texas A&M Aggies (17-5-1), 3-0.
Tennessee will appear in the Elite Eight for the first time in program history, and they did it behind timely scoring on the offensive end from senior forward Danielle Marcano and junior forward Salera Jordan, as well as a strong defensive performance.
Marcano’s record-breaking night
Just two night before, Tennessee found themselves in a similar predicament. The Vols had let a 2-0 lead turn into a 2-2 tie against Arizona in a second round match, and were in danger of having their season end amid a furious Arizona comeback in the closing minutes.
While Tennessee had more experience in those types of situations than they’d probably care to have, they received a much-needed score from Marcano, who scored her second goal of the game with less than two minutes left to put the Vols up 3-2.
While Tennessee needed no such late-game heroics against the Aggies, Marcano was key again, scoring a goal less than three minutes into the first half and then adding another to extend the Vols’ lead less than two minutes into the second half.
Marcano has been responsible for a total of four goals in Tennessee’s last two games, making her the all-time leading scorer in tournament play in program history.
“Honestly, it’s my teammates,” Marcano said. “I couldn’t do it without them. Everyone just plays great balls in and I’m just there to finish it.”
According to head coach Brian Pensky, Tennessee has had a lot of faith in Marcano in the postseason.
“Last year, in the NCAA Tournament, when everything is on the line, she scored goals,” Pensky said. “Our faith in her is really, endless. You know that she can do it at a high level. You know when Danielle is on a ball and it’s inside the box, you know that you have a chance.”
Vols blank Aggies...again
Back on Oct. 21, Tennessee faced then-No. 5 Texas A&M in College Station, Texas in a regular season SEC clash.
In a game that was scoreless for the first 30 minutes, the Vols scored four goals in the final 15 minutes to upset the Aggies, 4-0.
On Sunday, Tennessee used that same defense to earn another shutout win over Texas A&M, thanks in large part to senior goalkeeper Shae Yanez.
Yanez was responsible for eight saves, making her 16-2-3 on the season en route to Tennessee’s 12th shutout victory on the season.
“I thought Shae was fantastic tonight,” Pensky said. “She was bummed Friday night to give up two goals. People who are excellent are hard on themselves. But she was excellent tonight. That was one of her best performances tonight.”
In the 20-plus seasons of Tennessee soccer, the 2018 team made history on Sunday by becoming the first in program history to reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
Senior forward Meghan Flynn-who has three assists in the last two games-says that teamwork has led to such an historic accomplishment.
“I am so proud of this team,” Flynn said. “I feel like it takes everyone working together to make this happen and between our awesome offense and our backline being so solid, and the energy from the bench and our coaching staff.
“It really takes a whole group. I’m really proud of them.”
For Pensky, being the first ever team to do it is something that will stay with him-and his team-forever.
“If you have an opportunity in life to earn a ‘first ever,’ that’s pretty special,” Pensky said. “You take ‘first evers’ and you put them in your pocket forever. For these guys to advance to the elite eight and you think that now you’re one game away from the College Cup, it’s special.
“This is a very storied program. We’ve been working hard and trying to fill those shoes. To be the first team is incredibly special.”
The Vols will travel to Palo Alto, California, to face the top-seeded Stanford Cardinal on Friday. A win lands Tennessee in the final four.