The Tennessee 2022 soccer season has come to an end at the hands of Xavier University who knocked out the Lady Vols in the first round of the NCAA tournament with a 4-1 defeat.
The Lady Vols were ranked sixth in their bracket coming into the contest but failed to make it out of the first round for only the fifth time in program history, ending Joe Kirt’s first season as head coach in disappointing fashion.
“We had some good moments,” Kirt said. "Had some other chances and didn’t take them. (Xaiver) did a good job in taking their chances, and we didn't score enough tonight and that was the difference in the game."
Jaida Thomas opened the scoring 20 minutes in after the opening period of play saw neither side create any clear-cut chances. Tara Katz crossed the ball toward Thomas who was able to bring down the cross and lift it up over Xaiver’s goalkeeper Maria Galley on the half bounce.
The game proceeded to open up as Xavier searched for an equalizer. The Musketeers managed to do so through Ella Rogers just 10 minutes before the break. Tennessee was outdone on the cross as Rogers managed to get in front of her marker Sydney Hennessey and roll the ball past the outstretched hand of redshirt freshman, Ally Zazara.
Zazara’s involvement was the big talking point coming into tonight's match with senior Lindsey Romig absent from the squad after suffering an injury on the stroke of halftime in last week's match against Georgia.
Zazara did come up big during the second half of the 90 minutes, making an important save in the 73rd minute when Xavier hit the underside of the crossbar off a corner. There were shouts from Xavier believing the ball had crossed the line but a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) check confirmed that it was not a goal.
Tennessee had multiple big chances to break the deadlock with Taylor Huff and Kameron Simmonds both having one-on-one opportunities, but Galley came up big in both scenarios and denied the Lady Vols the lead.
The sides couldn’t be separated during the 90 minutes, taking the game to overtime. The Musketeers drew the advantage in the 94th minute when Chloe Netzel found the bottom right corner to give Xavier its first lead of the night. Natalie Bain picked the ball up in her own half and drove at the Tennessee defense who continually dropped off and failed to apply pressure. Bain rolled it to Netzel who finished off the move and a poor display of defense by the Lady Vols.
The Musketeers delivered the deceive blow in the 103rd minute when the Big East Midfielder of the Year Molly McLaughlin put her stamp on the game as she received help from the crossbar and the back of Zazara’s head when her effort from 25 yards out found the back of the net.
Sonia Vargas iced off the victory scoring Xaiver’s fourth with six seconds remaining and beginning the celebrations for the Musketeers.
For the Lady Vols, it ends an up-and-down season under the first year of the Joe Kirt reign. Tennessee stumbled out of the gates failing to record a win in their first three games losing to #10 North Carolina and #5 Duke and drawing to lower-ranked #23 Southern Methodist University during the latter half of August.
Tennessee recovered, winning nine out of their next 10 games. The side was full of confidence heading into the SEC tournament after securing their third consecutive SEC East title on the final day. However, they were sent home in the quarterfinals after failing to score in a 2-0 defeat to Georgia.
“The loss hurts all of us, but I think going into the winter and spring, it gives us a lot of motivation to keep pushing and working hard,” midfielder Jordan Fusco said. “So, hopefully if we keep challenging each other and getting better over the spring it will show off next fall.”
Kirt echoed Fusco’s sentiment of working hard to improve for next year.
“For us moving forward we got to continue to get tougher and more disciplined in moments and continue to put our players in positions where they can be successful,” Kirt said. “We got to get better, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”