ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — The University of Tennessee women’s soccer team won the 2008 Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship with a 1-0 victory over Georgia in the Championship game. The Lady Vols secured the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament with their fourth tournament title in program history.
Tennessee scored the game’s lone goal in the 51st minute when sophomore midfielder Tanya Emerson passed the ball into the box for fellow sophomore midfielder Julie Edwards who one-timed it into the net past Georgia goal keeper Michelle Betos. The goal marked Edwards’ second of the year, while Emerson notched an assist to go with her four points in the tournament.
With the teams locked in a scoreless tie at half-time, the Lady Vols came out as the aggressor in the second half. Tennessee notched the first seven shots of the second frame, with junior midfielder Mick Imgram forcing Betos to make two saves. The Orange and White nearly scored again in the 67th minute when sophomore forward Devon Swaim found sophomore defender Grace Cuenin in the box but her header went wide.
The Lady Vols had another great opportunity when freshman forward Emily Dowd won possession after blocking a kick from Betos. Dowd blasted a shot that Betos knocked down with her hands outside of the box, resulting in a yellow card for the keeper and a free kick for UT from just outside the box. However, freshman midfielder Chelsea Hatcher shot missed high to end the scoring threat.
Georgia had its fair share of chances to score the equalizer in the second half, countering UT’s nine shots with seven of its own. One of the Bulldogs’ best opportunities came in the 66th minute when a foul by the Lady Vols gave UGA a free kick deep in its offensive end. Bulldog defender Kelli Corless’ kick hit the crossbar before she collected the rebound and forced Tennessee senior keeper Jaimel Johnson to make the save.
The two squads traded chances early, with Georgia putting three of its six shots on frame in the first half. Tennessee countered with five shots of its own, forcing UGA junior keeper Michelle Betos to make two saves in the first 45 minutes.
The Bulldogs’ best chance of the first frame came in the seventh minute when midfielder Alex Hooker took advantage of an open net but blasted her header high. The Lady Vols did a good job controlling possession throughout the final 20 minutes of the half, holding the Bulldogs to just one shot during that span.
Tennessee finished the match with a 14-13 advantage on shots, putting five of its strikes on goal. Johnson needed four saves to record her fifth shutout of the season, while Betos made four stops in the losing effort.
The win gives UT a 3-1-1 record all-time in SEC Tournament title matches and snaps a two-game losing streak to Georgia. The Lady Vols are now 12-8-3 all-time in SEC Tournament matches and at No. 6, became the lowest seeded team to ever capture the championship.
The Lady Vols had four players named to the 2008 All-Tournament Team. Johnson earned the event’s Most Valuable Player Award, posting a 0.62 goals against average, making 13 saves and blocking two penalty kicks in the shootout with LSU. Joining Johnson on the team were Tanya Emerson, who posted four points in the tournament and the assist on the game winner in the final, Edwards, whose goal gave UT the title, and Hatcher, who dominated the midfield and led the Lady Vols with 14 shots on the week.
The Orange and White now advances to its eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Lady Vols have missed just one tournament since head coach Angela Kelly has been at the helm. Tennessee now awaits its NCAA Tournament fate, which will be announced on Monday at 8 p.m. on ESPNews.