In 2012, the Lady Vols soccer team took home the award for the most heartbreaking end to a season in school history.
Leading by one goal with nine seconds left against Miami (OH) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it seemed as if the Lady Vols were on their way to face Duke in the second round. That is until Redhawk midfielder Kelsey Dinges nailed one into the back of the net from about 18 yards out to tie it up. The Lady Vols wound up losing in overtime and their season came to an abrupt end.
With a new soccer season approaching, the Lady Vols have been hard at work, and the players remaining from last year have learned their lesson from that crushing defeat.
“We learned that it can take nine seconds for someone to score,” senior midfielder Tori Bailey said. “What we took away from that game is that you can’t give up any seconds in a game, and I think this team has come out hard working and resilient and we’re not going to let a goal get us down this time.
”The Lady Vols had their first opportunity to prove they have moved on from last season against No. 7 Duke on Friday. While they did lose their exhibition match 2-0, Bailey said that the team took away a lot of positives from the game.
“We played great,” Bailey said. “We moved the ball around, we got a lot of numbers on the field so we got a lot of girls playing and we got a lot of girls touching the ball. I think it was really positive, and although we lost 2-0, I don’t think the score reflected how we played.”
Now all attention turns to the team’s official season opener against the Oklahoma Sooners at Regal Stadium this Friday at 7:30 p.m.
A big task for the Lady Vols will be trying to replace the holes left by Kylie Bono, Ali Hall and the rest of the graduated seniors in terms of leadership, but coach Brian Pensky also believes it’s just as big to replace their production.
“Those were very good players right up the spine of our team: center back, defensive center midfielder, attacking center midfielder and forward and so you have to replace that talent and those personalities,” Pensky said. “We have some very good players who are excited and ready to step into their shoes, but what we are searching for right now is who are going to be the voices on the field.
“I think we have a lot of quiet leaders by example, but we all know that when push comes to shove and life is a little difficult, we need people to rally the team and talk to the team and I think we’re still finding that."
If the Lady Vols are able to replace the key players from last year and keep their confidence, Pensky believes that his team —pegged to finish tied for third by the other SEC coaches — can contend for an SEC Championship.
“Texas A&M and Florida have had great years the last couple years so I’m not surprised that they were picked ahead of us,” Pensky said. “But I think if we stay healthy and the karma and the energy around our team stays good, I think we can be in that top three or four and put ourselves to make a run and compete for an SEC Championship.”
After the Lady Vols home-opener on Friday, the team will travel to Birmingham over the weekend to face Samford on Sunday at 7 p.m.