It was, by all definitions, a memorable season for Tennessee soccer under head coach Brian Pensky.
Recording a second consecutive 13-win season, including back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, the Vols reached uncharted territory in 2018. For the first time in program history, Tennessee reached the Elite Eight before succumbing to defending national champion Stanford on Friday.
Despite the loss, that didn’t stop Pensky from pausing for a moment of reflection after what the Vols accomplished.
He also provided candid remarks about his group of departing seniors.
“The worst part is that this group is finished,” Pensky said. “Shae, Mackie, Rylie, Katie, Danielle, Anna and Bunny have meant so much to this program. They have left their legacy as a group.”
Recording notable victories over teams such as Florida, Texas A&M and Kentucky during the regular season, Tennessee continued its historic pace that began in 2017. While the roster boasted a total of eight true freshman, the Vols’ veteran leadership proved to be one of their biggest weapons throughout both conference and non-conference play.
Recording an unbeaten record before SEC play commenced in September, Tennessee would drop its opening matchup with South Carolina before rattling off a four-game winning streak. Three of those four wins came on the road, as the Vols outscored their opponents by a total margin of 8-1 during that span.
Continuing her stellar play from a year ago, Bunny Shaw was named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, notching 10 goals in 10 games while leading her home country to its first World Cup appearance.
With Shaw leading the way, five different Vols earned All-SEC honors. Katie Cousins and Maya Neal joined Shaw on the First Team. Erin Gilroy and M.A. Vignola rounded out the selections, earning spots on the second team, a first-time feat for both players.
As she has done throughout the year, Shaw’s praise was once again heaped upon her teammate’s shoulders.
“At the end of the day, you just want to play and have fun and that’s what I’m about,” Shaw said. “At the end of the day, I want to play, have fun and help my team out the best I can.”
With Shae Yanez finishing second in the SEC in goals-against average with a rating of 0.66, the Vols were once again powered by their defense, recording 12 total shutouts (11 in the regular season) while holding opponents to just 0.68 goals per match.
Allowing just nine goals from August until their opening-round SEC Tournament loss on Oct. 30, Tennessee allowed just 108 total shots on goal all year, good for a rate of .437.
For Pensky, mental toughness proved key throughout the season as the Vols continued to overcome adversity.
“We have a lot of special kids and special athletes,” Pensky said. “As one alum put it, they have an amazing resilient spirit.”
Tennessee might not have won the national championship in 2018, but they reached a point that, for 26 years, had yet to be accomplished.