Tennessee soccer advances to NCAA second round, breaking program records for wins in a season
Tennessee soccer advanced to the second round in the NCAA Tournament with a 3-0 win against Lipscomb on Friday at Regal Soccer Stadium.
The No. 6-ranked Lady Vols (19-2-0) broke the program record for most wins in a season, which had stood at 18 since 2002. A No. 3 seed, Tennessee next plays Nov. 19 against the winner of Washington State and Montana, who will face off 8 p.m. ET Saturday. No. 2 seed Michigan, which advanced 3-0 over Bowling Green on Friday, will host the second-round games.
"It's phenomenal," coach Brian Pensky said of breaking the program record. "We talked about going into this game, that they have an opportunity to put their names in history. And anytime you get to do that, especially in a storied program like this, it's a big deal ...19 wins against just two losses, that's a special season."
Pensky called Abbey Burdette a behind-the-scenes player, but she has made her presence known this postseason, scoring her first goal against Florida in the SEC Tournament and her second of the season Friday. Tennessee led 1-0 for most of the game off Burdette's goal, which came after she turned to beat her defender and sent a shot screaming in from 25 yards out. It went far post and Lipscomb goalkeeper CJ Graham didn't have a chance.
GOING TO THE DANCE:Tennessee soccer earns No. 3 seed in NCAA tournament, will host Lipscomb at home
ENDING THE DROUGHT:Tennessee soccer stuns Arkansas to win first SEC Tournament championship since 2008
ONE LAST YEAR:Wrenne French had more to give Tennessee soccer, so she came back for a second senior season
Burdette earned SEC Tournament MVP honors for her consistency and toughness as UT's defensive midfielder, a position she began playing in this season.
"My mentality, I just compete," Burdette said. "I've been told I have little regard for my body ... I've kind of always been complimented on my passion to compete, and I've just always carried that with me. So I think that's kind of the anchor I hold for my team."
Taylor Huff sealed the victory late in the game when she was moved to forward from her typical outside midfield position. The freshman assisted and scored to put Tennessee up 3-0 with 15 minutes to play. The second goal was knocked in by Cariel Ellis off a cross from Huff that bounced past the defenders and Graham.
A minute later, Maria Nelson crossed in a floating ball that Huff headed in for her ninth goal of the season. Huff only played forward for her high school club team, so Friday's game took her back to those days before she was a midfielder.
"So I mean, I kind of knew what I was doing, a little bit," Huff said. "But I mean, it was fun to play forward again, because I like to just get the ball up, and then get to run in and cross the ball in, so it was nice playing that."
Pensky knows Huff misses her old position a bit, but her role in the midfield in crucial. Part of her move up top was senior Mackenzie George's early exit from the game with a minor muscle injury.
"If she could probably hide me in a closet during games, and just go and play up top, she would," Pensky said. "Certainly as a freshman playing where she's played all season, and to have the kind of numbers she's had, it's a big deal."
George has played a significant role for Tennessee in the postseason and has six goals and nine assists this season. Pensky said she could have returned to the game if needed, but he kept her out as a precaution.
Tennessee has played four games in 10 days and finally gets a week to rest, recover and prepare for the next round on the road.
"We spent the whole week, honestly, recovering, and it's such a tough decision: how much do you just rest and relax and recover both physically and mentally, versus try and get the bodies going again?" Pensky said. "It's tough because you're also so emotionally still in Orange Beach ... (but) we are now firmly entrenched in the NCAA Tournament, we're on to the second round. That's a big deal."
Cora Hall covers University of Tennessee women's athletics. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @corahalll.