Soccer vs South Carolina

KNOXVILLE, TN - No. 31 Mackenzie George dribbles past the defense during the game against the University of South Carolina at the Regal Soccer Stadium. Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022.

After 16 games the 2022 Tennessee soccer season will close its regular season curtains against Vanderbilt Thursday afternoon, but not without one last twist. 

Going into the final day of the season, the SEC East title is still undecided with the three teams chasing glory on Thursday night. Vanderbilt currently leads the SEC East with 13 points followed by No. 21 Tennessee and No. 14 South Carolina both on 12 points. 

With Tennessee and Vanderbilt versing each other and South Carolina welcoming Missouri, many factors and results will shape how the East looks after all the final whistles are blown.

The Lady Vols are searching for their third consecutive SEC East title and their first under new coach Joe Kirt. However, the side has lost control of their own destiny after suffering their worst defeat of the season to South Carolina last Sunday losing 6-1. 

“This game matters in a lot of ways,” Tennessee head coach Joe Kirt said. “Certainly from a league standpoint but also a personal standpoint to our team. The fact that it’s Vanderbilt puts even more intensity and passion behind it.”

For Tennessee to win the title Sunday afternoon they must beat Vanderbilt and hope that South Carolina gets a draw or a loss against Missouri. If Tennessee and South Carolina both win, then South Carolina will win the league as both sides will finish on 15 points but will be split based on the sides head to head results. 

The scenario is a lot more straightforward for the Commodores who climbed into first after beating the Gamecocks 2-1 in Nashville a week and a half ago. Vanderbilt will win the league with a win in Knoxville regardless of the result in Columbia. A draw could also be good enough for the Commodores if South Carolina was to drop points to the Tigers. 

These three teams have been dominating the East with one of them winning the division in the previous five seasons. Tennessee has won the past two SEC East titles and their first SEC tournament since 2008 last season. Vanderbilt won the East in 2018 and the SEC tournament in 2020. South Carolina won the division and SEC tournament in 2019. The Gamecocks were also the SEC regular season champions in 2016 and 2017. 

The Lady Vols suffered their first loss in the division over the weekend whereas Vanderbilt remains undefeated in the East this season; a draw against Georgia has been its only falter up to this point. 

The Commodores played Mississippi State to close out their home schedule last Sunday night. Alex Kerr and Hannah McLaughlin both got on the score sheet as Vanderbilt beat the Bulldogs 2-1. Both Tennessee and Vanderbilt have secured their spots in the SEC tournament, which begins this Sunday with the first round of knockouts. 

Tennessee will need to overcome two burdens on Thursday to keep its title hopes alive. The Lady Vols were perfect on the road in SEC play getting five wins out of five. However, the same story cannot be said about their home record. Joe Kirt’s side has struggled at home in the SEC with the side only recording one win and picking up a total of four points out of a possible 12. 

“[It’s about] being tough enough in the moment to rise to the occasion,” Kirt said. “We’ve done that really consistently on the road but at home, we’ve been inconsistent with that.”

Tennessee has not had the greatest track record when facing its local rival. The Lady Vols have only won one out of the last 10 meetings against Vanderbilt with the Commodores winning last year's match 2-1 in overtime. 

“Their job is to go out and compete to the best of their ability to get a result against their in-state rivals,” Kirt said. “So we will be ready to play. There’s no doubt about that.”

The title-deciding match will kick off at Regal Soccer Stadium at 6:30 p.m ET and can be watched on SEC Network.

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