Tennessee soccer earns No. 3 seed in NCAA tournament, will host Lipscomb at home

Cora Hall
Knoxville News Sentinel

After winning the SEC Tournament, Tennessee soccer earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament

Tennessee will face Lipscomb in the first round at 5 p.m. Friday in Regal Soccer Stadium. The No. 1 overall seed went to Florida State, with Virginia, Duke and Rutgers securing the other No. 1 seeds. Michigan, UCLA, Arkansas and North Carolina were awarded No. 2 seeds.

Tennessee went into the SEC Tournament ranked No. 10 and on the bubble for a two seed. But wins over No. 21 Ole Miss and No. 5 Arkansas in the championship game weren't enough for the selection committee.The Lady Vols are in the same region as Florida State.

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The last time Tennessee was in the NCAA Tournament, it was ranked No. 2 in 2018, which was the highest seeding in program history. UT made it all the way to the Elite Eight. 

Coach Brian Pensky said when UT received the No. 3 seed during the selection show, players erupted with cheers. 

"You see the other names and the top four seeds, the 16 top seeded teams, there are a lot of phenomenal, historically phenomenal programs in that group," Pensky said. "So to be in that company, our kids need to be proud of that.

"If this seeding upsets our group, that's OK, right? I don't think we're a friendly group when we're pissed off. And so if our kids come out on fire Friday night, as the coach, I'll take it."

Tennessee soccer wins SEC Tournament

Entering the season unranked and projected to finish fifth in the SEC, Tennessee earned its way to No. 22 in September. The Lady Vols worked their way up to a No. 10 ranking as they dominated in SEC play, only losing to Arkansas and Vanderbilt. 

"Arkansas in a way humbled us. This is how we got to compete to make an impact in the SEC," SEC Tournament MVP Abbey Burdette said. "And I think from that point forward, we've kind of turned on the next level, the next gear, and we've just been able to grow from that."

Wrenne French, who scored the game-winner against Arkansas, called the team "so dangerous" when underestimated.

Top coach:Brian Pensky of Tennessee named SEC Coach of the Year; Taylor Huff is Freshman of the Year

"The sky's the limit for us," French said. "We've absolutely proven that, with being underestimated coming into the season, we proved that we're way more than everyone's first opinion of us. And I think that this team still has more to prove."

French, Burdette and Mackenzie Ostrom are the only remaining members of the 2018 team. Both French and Burdette said this year's team has the same chemistry and culture they believe led to their success.

"It's something that talent doesn't cover, skill doesn't cover," French said. "It's just about the people around you. So that's what reminds me the most of 2018 is just the amazing culture that we have built for the program this year."

The leadership and experience of French, Burdette and Ostrom have been invaluable to Pensky, who said sometimes it means more hearing things from the seniors than him.

"Those three have been around the block, they've been to an Elite Eight. ... Our leadership group is flat-out running our team," Pensky said. "If it's coming from your leadership and your older kids, it means your team really has a chance to be great."