The No. 17 Tennessee soccer team hosts No. 11 Auburn in its SEC home opener on Thursday, as it looks to bounce back from its first loss of the season last Friday at Arkansas.
The Lady Vols’ (7-1) defeat last time ended their seven-game win streak and a program-record 633 minute, 53 second shutout streak.
After a loss, teams can either continue to struggle or come back vigorously. Tennessee has chosen to have a positive mindset heading into the match.
“The first SEC home game is a great opportunity for us as they are a ranked team in the top-15. I have full confidence in our team that we can win,” senior forward Mackenzie George said.
“Our kids are excited. I think they have a bad taste in their mouth coming out of the Arkansas result,” head coach Brian Pensky said. “They’re chomping at the bit. Thursday night can’t come soon enough.”
Despite a loss to Arkansas, Tennessee is up to 26 goals and 195 shots on the season – 93 on goal – with an average of 24.4 shots per game.
The Vols are not a selfish team. Twelve different players have scored at least one goal this season, as well as having 23 assists on top of that. Mackenzie George leads the team with 4 assists, despite only having one goal.
“We win and lose as a team, but I’m just happy to be productive,” George said. “As long as I can contribute it doesn’t matter. I’m happy to see my team score.”
Tennessee has been dominant on the defensive side. While they only have 23 saves, the Lady Vols have limited their opponents to 63 shots across eight games. The further they get into SEC play, they expect those statistics may change.
“Every SEC game is an absolute battle,” Pensky said. “Sometimes games aren’t always the prettiest. Sometimes there are moments when it’s really ugly, but that’s a function of two teams trying to win a game . . . Non-conference games matter, but sometimes there isn’t as much history or as much of a rivalry. You can't have a whole lot more on the line than we do every time we step on the field in the SEC.”
“In non-conference we could try out new plays and there’s more playing time,” George said. “With conference play it’s a world of difference - more fun but more intense.”
Auburn (7-1) is looking to continue its dominance as well. The team is outscoring opponents 22-6 this season. Auburn also has a secret weapon in sophomore midfielder Anna Haddock, who ranks top-five in the SEC and top-20 in the NCAA in goals (7).
“Anna Haddock, one of the best players in our league, she needs to be dealt with. We need to make sure that when we are in our back half that we know where Anna Haddock is at all times,” Pensky said. “The kid is a fighter, she can smack a ball, and she has proven that she can score goals at a high level. There’s not just Anna either, they have a number of kids that can hurt us. We have to be collectively good.”
One thing to watch for is if Tennessee can bounce back from its first loss after sitting on it for nearly a week.
“I have no doubt that our kids are going to bounce back and come out swinging tomorrow night,” Pensky said. “They’re just excited to play again. As a high-level competitor, the worst thing about losing is having to wait ’til you get another opportunity.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. EST at Regal Soccer Stadium.