Soccer vs. Xavier

Jaida Thomas (2) runs after the ball against Xavier University in Regal Stadium on Feb. 28, 2021.

Saturday night, Tennessee soccer earned its most impressive victory of the spring season, defeating Wake Forest 2-0 at Regal Soccer Stadium in Knoxville.

The game opened up with chances for both sides. In the first half, Tennessee was out shot six to four, and was ultimately out possessed for the first 20 minutes of the game.

Then the tides started to shift. The Volunteers had better possessions and put together many quality attacks. Some buildups were ended by offsides, and others ended in crosses and corners, but the chances were coming for the Volunteers.

“It all shifted when Abbey Burdette was able to just get a toe on in it and get Mackenzie (George) going down the pitch,” said head coach Brian Pensky. “It put a little fear in them and gave our team a little more confidence to change the tides.”

Tennessee looked to find forward Mackenzie George in the corner of the pitch where she was able to win some corners and deliver quality balls into the box

“She’s an animal,” Pensky said on George. “There was one point where she was trapped in the corner and had three and a half players surrounding her, and still won a corner.”

Tennessee goalkeeper Lindsey Romig was only forced to make one save in the first half, and it was a big one. The Demon Deacons took a quality shot from distance and the All-SEC performer was able to tip the ball over the bar for a corner.

Prior to the opening goal, the best chance of the first half came in the 39th minute, when Tennessee had the opportunity for a counterattack. George pressed the defense with Burdette streaking at her side. George flicked the ball forward into space for Burdette who’s touch was just a little too strong and corralled by the Wake Forest keeper.

Minutes later and shortly before halftime, Jaida Thomas was able to break through with the goal she most certainly deserved all half. Thomas took advantage of a perfect throw in which she dribbled in stride and placed the ball in the bottom right corner of the net to give Tennessee a 1-0 lead going into halftime.

The second half opened with a calmer pace compared to the first. Wake Forest played wider with an intent to keep possession away from Tennessee. The Vols were content letting Wake Forest move the ball in their own half of the pitch, and the defensive unit squashed any sort of buildup in Tennessee’s final third.

The defense led by Romig and center back Wrenne French continue to be the strength of this soccer team, as they have allowed just one goal through the first four games of the spring season.

“I give our kids a ton of credit,” coach Pensky said. “Isabella Cook played one of her best games for us on the back line and I give John Morgan a ton of credit for working with all our backs.”

Just when the pace of the game started to slow, Tennessee got the spark it needed to create the separation it were searching for. Off of a long distance goal kick, Thomas was able to muscle off two Wake Forest defenders to earn a breakaway on goal.

Thomas’ initial attempt was stopped by the Wake Forest keeper, but she was able to bury the rebound in the empty net. The goal was Thomas’ 12th of the season, ninth in the spring and her fourth consecutive multi-goal game. Thomas’ 12 goals are good for second in the nation, and are third most ever by a Tennessee freshman.

Tennessee was able to stall out the remaining 20 minutes of time even masterfully, pinning the ball in the Wake Forest corner for the final three minutes of the game, to secure a dominant 2-0 win.

Tennessee will face No. 2 North Carolina next weekend in their final home game of the season at Regal Soccer Stadium. Kickoff is set for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET.

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