The Tennessee Lady Vols (1-1) got their first win of the season on Sunday afternoon, upsetting No. 10 Vanderbilt (1-1) in overtime 1-0. The match was Tennessee’s home opener and the first home athletic event since March.
The Tennessee-Vanderbilt matchup has become an important game in the last decade. The Lady Vols had not beaten their in-state rivals since 2013 and suffered a 1-0 overtime loss last season.
“This is a huge rivalry. It’s one of our biggest ones, if not the biggest,” junior Mackenzie George said. “It felt like a battle out there. Everyone individually was competing and came together as a team.”
The first half of the game was a competitive but scoreless affair. Vanderbilt kept the pressure on Tennessee, controlling possession of the ball for much of the 45 minutes.
Vanderbilt’s Raegan Kelly had the first scoring opportunity of the game. In the sixth minute, the junior kicked the match’s first shot wide over the goal. The Commodores would have three more shots by seniors Blue Ellis and Haley Hopkins before the Tennessee offense got anything going.
Junior Abbey Burdette, redshirt freshman Jaida Thomas and George all had shots for the Lady Vols in the first half, with only the latter two on goal. Both were saved by Vanderbilt goalkeeper Sophie Guilmette.
It was much of the same in the second half. Tennessee had a chance in the 49th minute on a shot on goal by junior Hannah Tillett, but Guilmette made the save.
The Commodores had an opportunity in two corner kicks in the 56th and 62nd minutes but were unsuccessful on both attempts.
The Lady Vols had a handful of scoring chances, including a shot by freshman Lawson Renie who played 21 minutes in her college soccer debut, but were unable to convert in the second half, and the game went into overtime.
Tennessee earned a corner kick in the second minute of overtime. Tillett took the kick for the Lady Vols, looking for an opportunity to end the match. The ball bounced off George in front of the goal and Thomas tapped it in for the golden goal.
“I saw the ball come across, and it kind of bounced straight into me,” George said. “I knew the keeper was on my back. I was just waiting for someone to come and finish it. And (Thomas) was just there.”
The goal was the first of Thomas’ career, after missing all last season to an injury. She started the game on the bench but ended up with 51 minutes, three shots, two of them on goal and the game-winner.
“I knew with the corner kick that this was our shot." Thomas said. "When I saw (George), I just peeled off and opened up ... When I saw the ball, I was like 'I'm gonna go for it.' It felt like really slow motion because I couldn't believe it. Everyone just went crazy, and it was just an amazing feeling — super unbelievable. That's my first goal ever here. It was pretty cool."
It was a much-needed win for Tennessee. After a tough loss last week to Alabama, it was imperative that the Lady Vols regain some of their confidence with a well-played game, and they did just that. It was the eleventh win in program history against a top-10 opponent and the first time since defeating No. 5 Texas A&M in Oct. 2018.
“Over the years . . . it’s become a pretty good rivalry,” head coach Brian Pensky said. “I told them probably nobody out there thought that the 2020 Tennessee soccer team was going to be the one that would break this streak. For this group to do it, it could be a team defining win.”
The Lady Vols have a quick turnaround heading into their next match. They take on the first place Georgia Bulldogs in Athens this Friday 7 p.m. ET. The match will be broadcast on SEC Network.