In the history of the Lady Vol soccer program, the SEC Tournament has routinely pitched Tennessee a shutout.
Every appearance thus far in the tournament's history has dealt the Lady Vols a defeat and, until last year's 4-2 loss to Kentucky in the first round, Tennessee had never even placed a goal on the board.
This season, though, should yield different results for Tennessee. The entire SEC season, after all, has had a different feel to it.
Florida, who routinely found itself at the top of the league, isn't the head of the class this season. Georgia and Kentucky, two teams that have been ranked highly in the nation in prior years, don't represent the elite in the 2002 season.
By the time that the Lady Vols reached the SEC season, they had competed against some of the top teams in the nation. They had been tested and challenged in every way possible and emerged from the challenges stronger.
To use a clichŽ phrase, the only opponent who would test them in SEC competition was themselves.
And test themselves they did.
The Lady Vols lost two key overtime games one to unranked Vanderbilt and one to a weaker-than-normal Florida squad. The losses dropped them from the top of the league and stopped their upward movement in the national rankings. Auburn, which was defeated by Tennessee 6-2 in October, picked up the tournament No. 1 seed and the regular season title with only one loss in conference play.
Tactical errors and chemistry problems caused Tennessee to become its own worst enemy through the close of the SEC season. Several other near-misses had to be overtaken before Tennessee could finish out the season at 13-5-1 and 6-2 in the conference.
Realistically, no team in the conference should be capable of beating the Lady Vols unless they beat themselves first.
Not a team in the conference has the edge it should require to compete with Tennessee not talent-wise; not raw-ability-wise; not emotional-intensity-wise.
Riding on the skills of junior forward Rhian Wilkinson and senior forward Kim Patrick, Tennessee already has the edge in talent. Add to that talent the spectacular raw ability at a particular position, especially in sophomore defender Keeley Dowling and senior goalkeeper Ellen Dean, and the trick to winning a title becomes a little easier.
Throw into the mix the lessons that coach Angela Kelly has to offer and the road becomes even less difficult. It is often said of basketball coach Pat Summitt that her strength lies in the postseason. The same could soon be said of Kelly.
In four years of playing for legendary head coach Anson Dorrance at North Carolina, Kelly picked up an abundance of postseason experience on her way to winning four national titles. That postseason experience will now be passed on to her 13th-ranked Lady
Vols as they try to forge a postseason history of their own.
The first round will find Tennessee paired against Georgia at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Lady Bulldogs, who are the No. 7 seed in the tournament, were defeated 2-1 on Wilkinson's golden goal last Friday. A first-round victory would pit Tennessee against either
No. 3 seed Ole Miss or No. 6 seed Kentucky in second-round action. Both teams were beaten by Tennessee in the regular season.
Tennessee's worst enemy will be itself. If the Lady Vols can mesh their talent with some internal chemistry, the team should find success and, perhaps, an SEC tournament title.