Tennessee upends top-seeded Arkansas to win SEC title
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. - No. 10 Tennessee claimed an SEC Championship on Sunday, defeating No. 5 Arkansas, 3-0.
The win over the top-seeded Razorbacks gave the Big Orange its fifth overall SEC Tournament title and first since 2008.
Seniors Mackenzie George, Wrenne French and Abbey Burdette and redshirt-sophomore Jaida Thomas were named to the SEC All-Tournament Team. Burdette took MVP honors.
With the win, UT got its first victory over a Top-5 opponent since taking down No. 5 Texas A&M in 2018 and tied the program record for single-season wins at 18.
"This was a storybook ending to the SEC season for this group. What a complete performance. Our kids came to win, simple as that," said Tennessee head coach Brian Pensky. "I could talk forever about all of the individual performances today. There were so many of them. However, the strength of this group has consistently been in our numbers - everyone playing their role, doing their part. Our bench energy was phenomenal today, continuously inspiring the kids on the field. And that was a big deal, especially in the first 20 minutes or so of that second half. So, it was just a total collective effort."
French, Thomas and senior Hannah Tillett all found the net for the Vols. In goal, junior Lindsey Romig recorded four saves in the shutout.
Tennessee fended off a couple of Arkansas set pieces in the opening minutes before going on the offensive. French had the first shot on goal of the game, getting a head on a corner but knocking it directly at Hannah Warner who made the save.
The Razorbacks countered on the other end, bouncing the ball around inside the six-yard box, but Burdette came up with a diving save on Arkansas' first look, and UA's second attempt went wide.
The game remained a back-and-forth affair through the middle of the half, with Arkansas outshooting the Vols 5-4, but both teams only managing one shot on goal each by the 25-minute mark.
Jordan Fusco got another opportunity for UT 27 minutes in, sending a header high off a Vols corner kick, and Hannah Zaluski put a free kick of frame with 8:50 remaining in the half, forcing the Arkansas keeper into a dive to knock it over the goal, but the score remained knotted at zero.
A corner kick in the 43rd minute proved to be the opportunity Tennessee needed, as French won a header on top of the six-yard box and placed it in the corner of the net.
Brooke Wilson nearly added a second before the end of the half, getting behind the Razorback defense and putting a head on the end of a serve by Lawson Renie, but the shot sailed high, and UT went into the break up 1-0.
Arkansas came out of halftime aggressive offensively, getting off two shots on goal from inside the box in the 50th minute, but Romig was there to come up with two big saves to defend the lead.
A minute later, Thomas scored her fifth goal of the tournament, redirecting a serve from Claire Rain to split two defenders and beat the keeper from six yards out.
Tillett made it 3-0 in the 68th minute, blasting one in from 15 yards out off an assist from Thomas.
Bryana Hunter got a good look for UA with eight minutes to play, turning around to fire one from 16 yards out, but the shot flew high, and Tennessee rode out the clock to claim the SEC Tournament title.
UP NEXT: Tennessee will return home to await the results of the NCAA DI Women's Soccer Selection show at 4:30 p.m. ET on Monday.
DOMINANT FASHION: The 3-0 win over Arkansas was the most dominant performance UT has posted in an SEC Championship game. All of UT's prior SEC title game matches were decided by one point or in penalty kicks.
SHUTOUTS STACKING UP: The win marked the Vols' 11th shutout of the season, bringing the team within one of tying the program record of 12.