Tennessee soccer beats Kentucky, wins second consecutive SEC East championship
For the second consecutive year, Tennessee soccer is the SEC East champion.
With a 2-0 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night at Regal Soccer Stadium, the Lady Vols finished No. 2 in the SEC overall.
No. 12 Tennessee (15-2, 9-2 SEC) controlled the match against the Wildcats (7-10, 1-9), going up early on goals from Mackenzie George and Jaida Thomas.
"It's so exciting to go back-to-back and it's extremely hard to hold the title like that in this league," center back Wrenne French said. "It's extremely, extremely hard to do and that's a testament to how much we've grown, how together we are and just how hard we work. I'm so proud."
The back-to-back SEC East Championships are a stark turnaround from the 2019 season, when coach Brian Pensky said it felt like there was a dark cloud over the stadium. The last time Tennessee won the SEC East in consecutive seasons was 2002 to 2005 when it won four in a row.
"Two years ago to this night, right? We sat here just in absolute sadness as Arkansas beat us and won the SEC Championship," Pensky said. "Now, the last two nights of our regular season, we are East champions, and that's a big deal. It says a lot about the kids in this program and their determination and how watching Arkansas made them feel ... we're back."
The Lady Vols are poised for a postseason run like they haven't seen since their Elite Eight appearance in 2018. There are similarities between 2018 and this team, like talent and chemistry.
But part of the 2018 team's success came from senior Meghan Flynn's will to keep her last season alive, Pensky said. And they have that now with fifth-year senior French, who came back for her extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.
"The culture, the chemistry on this team is special," French said. "It's unmatched and it's kind of a once in a lifetime thing to have a group of people like this all together. You know, one vision, one mission, you're all working for the same goal."
Tennessee earned a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament, which begins Sunday. The Lady Vols haven't won an SEC Tournament game since 2016. They'll be the No. 2 seed in Orange Beach, Alabama, and will play the winner of No. 7 Vanderbilt (8-8-2, 5-4-1) and No. 10 Florida (4-11-3, 3-6-1) on Tuesday (SEC Network, 1 p.m. ET).
"Honestly, we just want to break that right now," forward Mackenzie George said. "Going into a tournament, we want to be there all week, and if there's a team to do it, it's this team."