The Tennessee Volunteers soccer team (9-5-3,SEC: 3-4-2) welcomed the No.6 Arkansas Razorbacks (13-2-2,SEC: 7-1-1) into Regal Soccer Stadium on Thursday.
In what was very likely the last game of their season, the Vols fell to the Razorbacks, 1-3.
The win allowed Arkansas to clinch the SEC regular season title.
Kickoff conditions at Regal were quite chilly, with the thermometer read 43 degrees at kickoff, along with a strong wind coming off of the river.
Seniors MA Vignola, Claire Franks, Katie Cousins and Maya Neal all played the full 90 minutes. Joining them were Abby Burdette, Mackenzie Ostrum, and Mackenzie George.
Freshman Lindsey Romig got the start in goal. The Vols gave up two turnovers in their defensive third in the first two minutes, but neither resulted in an Arkansas goal.
Vignola went on a run in the 8th minute, but the chance ended with an offside call. It appeared the Vols would score just two minutes later, but Michelle Alozie’s header deflection was wide of the goal.
Arkansas had a deadly deflection on goal in the 17th minute, but Romig controlled it seemingly easily. Four minutes later, Arkansas’ Tori Cannata would bicycle kick a ball on frame, again controlled by Romig.
In the 27th minute, Parker Goins fired from about 40 yards out. Romig dropped the ball but was able to grab it before it rolled over the line. Tennessee responded with a deadly cross on the other end, but they couldn’t make anything of it or off the resulting cross. Tara Katz had a close shot in the 34th.
Arkansas broke the deadlock when Abby Burdett earned a card in the box and Goins converted the resulting penalty kick.
Romig, who appeared to be injured, was replaced at halftime by Charli Pogany.
The Razorbacks doubled their lead in the 51st minute when Cannata found goal. Tennessee answered quickly, with Alozie getting her name on the scoresheet in the 52nd after a cross from Vignola. Arkansas would tally again in the 58th, Bryana Hunter getting the header.
In the 61st minute, Maya Neal had a spectacular diving header to clear the ball out of the box. Vignola had two shots in the 69th; one banged off the top crossbar and the other was saved by the Arkansas keeper.
Ultimately, Tennessee fought but couldn’t bridge the gap, losing to the top team in the league.
“I thought our kids played really hard.” Tennessee head coach Brian Pensky said after the game. “It’s an athletic team. It’s an organized team. They’re hard-nosed. And we competed. You know, we were really trying to get into the locker room 0-0 at half. We gave away a PK and now we’re chasing a little bit. Really proud of how we came out to start the second half. I thought we came out with great energy and some effectiveness. And again, you know we give up a second goal.
“That’s a little bit of a killer. Again, our team’s resilient we jumped back and got one back. The belief never died. And honestly, the belief probably never died until the end. I’m really gutted for our seniors right now for this to have to be their last home game, senior night.”
Penksy also talked about what the seniors have meant to the team and the program.
“Each of them in their own way have been a special part, selfishly, of my life and this program. Helping kind of get this program back to a really elite status. I’m fortunate to have, to call myself the coach of people like Salera [Jordan], and Michelle [Alozie], and Maya [Neal] and Katie [Cousins] and Mary Alice [Vignola] and Claire [Franks].
“They each grown so much as players and grown so much as people…”
With the loss tonight and Mississippi State win, the Vols have placed 11th in the conference. As a result, Tennessee will miss out on the SEC tournament and will very likely not be invited to the NCAA tournament.
This was a very freshman laden team and the underclassmen will look to come stronger next season.