Knoxville, Tenn– After a tough 2-1 overtime loss to Vanderbilt on Thursday in Nashville, the Tennessee Lady Vols tenth-ranked soccer squad rebounded with a 3-1 victory over the Georgia Lady Bulldogs in Regal Stadium on Sunday evening.
The fans in Regal Stadium saw a relatively uneventful match for nearly all of the first half, but Cariel Ellis gave Vol Nation something to cheer about when she found the net with 10 seconds remaining in the first half. The goal marked Ellis' first of the mature season.
After the game, Ellis met with the media to discuss the feeling of scoring her first goal of the season at such a crucial time.
"I was so excited. First career SEC goal... I was just happy to get the ball in the back of the net."
Lady Vols head coach Brian Pensky backed up Ellis' comment by remarking how paramount it was for the team to have a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.
"[The goal] was massive. The game was back and forth, and in the last five minutes of the first half, we were weathering a storm with them. Then Romig goes out, and Gabor has to come in. [As far as the goal goes], Zulaski played the ball in, and Cariel, one of her great developments, has been attacking balls with her head, so for the first goal for her to come with her head, it sent us in the locker room with massive energy, and it sends [Georgia] into the locker room with their heads down and trying to find the energy."
The first goal from Ellis of the year is below:
With all the momentum going into the break, the Lady Vols came out looking to put it away in the second half. It only took 11 minutes for Mackenzie George to give Tennessee a commanding 2-0 lead with a net off an assist from Jaida Thomas.
George continues her solid season with her fourth goal of the year. (Watch below)
Georgia could not muster up much offense against Tennessee's defense for the majority of the outing on Sunday evening, but the Lady Bulldogs were able to make it interesting with a Tori Penn goal with 20 minutes remaining in the contest. Penn got one-on-one with Tennessee keeper Ashley Gabor, who came in after starting keeper Lindsey Romig exited with an injury, made a move, and found the net.
The final stages of the game saw Brian Pensky's Lady Vols try to salt the game away and prevent a comeback. There were times Georgia was knocking on the door, but Gabor stood firm, and the Lady Vols' offensive mojo returned in the final minutes. Jaida Thomas netted her seventh goal of the season off an assist from Mackenzie George with just under two minutes remaining to bury the Lady Bulldogs and ultimately win 3-1.
Watch the goal from Thomas below:
During the post-game media availability, Thomas commented on the feeling of netting her goal in the final stages that put the game away.
"We had one the game [after the goal]. It was really hype."
After a tough loss to Vanderbilt, Thomas also touched on how it felt to secure such a big rebound victory.
"It felt amazing. It felt great to get back into the win column after we outplayed Vandy but lost, which is just how soccer is."
And heading into next week, Thomas and Ellis noted that their attack is "dangerous" and that they have to "keep attacking the same way."
In addition to Thomas and Ellis, Lady Vols head coach Brian Pensky met with the media after the game to discuss the much-needed comeback win.
"I'm so proud of our team. Thursday night was tough... With the overtime factor, it was heartbreaking, especially to some of our older kids who have been through that experience before against Vanderbilt. Our performance Thursday night was phenomenal, and our kids were angry at the result. [They] channeled their anger into tonight."
Pensky followed up by pointing out specific players who stepped up in the win against Georgia.
"Mackenzie George... Jaida [Thomas]... warriors. Ashley Gabor coming in and just having ice in her veins and instilling confidence in the players in front of her because she is so confident in herself. It's all of us, this is a special group of kids, and that's why she has won seven games in the league."
In mentioning Ashley Gabor coming in for Lindsey Romig, Pensky gave an update on Romig's status.
"She went to get x-rays on a lower extremity, but I don't know specifically what it is."
As far as game-planning for Georgia, Pensky mentioned keeping the Lady Bulldogs contained was vital.
"They're very good soccer players, [we could not] let them run free. They're clinical finishers, and that is obviously terrifying. Their movement is good; they love playing off each other. And that is what is so cool about tonight, for Mackenzie George to score off of an assist from Jaida and for Jaida to score off of an assist from George... It's so cool. Credit to our backline for managing [the Lady Bulldogs] for a long time. We blocked three or four shots... It shows determination and refusal to lose the game."
With Kentucky on the horizon, Pensky credits the significance of an SEC East trophy and not taking the Wildcats for granted as keys in preparation, and also comments on the game being the last regular-season home game for the seniors.
"We win the game; we win a trophy. That's not hard to motivate the team in practice. Kentucky is 1-8 in SEC play, but I believe they have been outshot only two or three times. Kentucky is going to be an absolute handful. They are playing their tails off and got their first win for their interim head coach today. We have to defend just like we did tonight and hopefully win a trophy."
"It's [the seniors'] night. It's a night where the game is always important, but equally important is it being a special night for them, and us doing a great job in celebrating them. Thursday night will be no different for Hannah and for Moe. It was cool Gabor got to play tonight. If she did have any nerves, I did not see any; she'll be ready to go on Thursday. It'll be a special night as always celebrating those kids."
A full highlight video courtesy of Tennessee Soccer Twitter can be seen below:
The Lady Vols (14-2, 7-2 SEC) will host Kentucky (7-9-2, 1-8 SEC) in Regal Stadium on October 28 at 6 p.m. ET to try and clinch a second straight SEC East title under Brian Pensky and the third since 2005.
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