Although the Lady Vols soccer team failed to qualify for the SEC tournament, hope has not faded for receiving an at-large bid for this year's NCAA tournament.
The Tennessee women's soccer team finished 11th in its conference, leaving the squad one spot short of the SEC tournament, which takes the top 10 teams in the conference each year and is currently taking place in Orange Beach, Ala.
"You can look at three or four games within the league, where if we get one point, all we needed was one more point," head coach Brian Pensky said. "The fact that we're not going to Orange Beach is going to sit with us until next fall."
Senior forward Caroline Brown is looking at the positives of missing out on the SEC tournament instead of hanging her head as the team awaits word on its postseason fate.
"As a positive, it gives us rest," Brown said. "I think it's a good chance to get our bodies regenerated and really be ready to go when we get that NCAA bid."
Even without making the conference tournament, the Lady Vols still have a chance to be invited to participate in the NCAA tournament's 64-team field, which will be announced on Monday night.
"I have complete faith that we are going to make the NCAA tournament," junior midfielder Cheyenne Spade said. "And I also have complete faith that we are going to do very well once we get there."
Tennessee is ranked 50th in the country, according to the NCAA RPI rankings, and has registered strong wins against teams RPI top-25 teams Central Florida and Texas A&M.
The Lady Vols need these teams to continue winning to increase their chance at a tournament berth.
"We're now just sitting," Pensky said. "We're obviously very hopeful that we have done enough, over the course of the season, to be in consideration for an NCAA at-large bid."
Even with the possibility of the NCAA tournament, Pensky knows not qualifying for the SEC tournament is unacceptable.
"It leaves us with an enormous source of motivation," Pensky said.
The Lady Vols got off to a fast start in conference play — beating nationally-ranked Texas A&M — but then faltered late in the season. They finished 1-4-2 over their last seven games, many of which were decided by just one goal.
"There are just a ton of different scenarios where our fate could have been different," Pensky said.
For Brown, her SEC career has come to an end, but she has many fond memories of the conference and its members.
"I mean, it's just great," Brown said. "It's just one of those conferences where every game is a battle, it's a blood bath sometimes. You don't want to go somewhere where it's a walk in the park on Sundays. That's what I love about the SEC."
Now all the Lady Vols can do is sit and hope as they have a week off before the NCAA tournament field is announced on Monday. But regardless of the outcome, Pensky said this team will be more determined to improve.
"Once this season does finish out and the selection is complete," Pensky said, "this bad taste isn't going to go away until we get a chance to redeem ourselves."