KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee welcomes #6 Alabama to Regal Stadium for its SEC home opener on Thursday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. ET and the match will be streamed on SECN+.
The Lady Vols (5-2-1, 1-0 SEC) took a 2-1 win at Florida in their last outing. The seniors led the way in that contest with Mackenzie George and Claudia Dipasupil finding the net, and Lindsey Romig recording a career-high nine saves on the night. Romig received SEC Player of the Week honors following that performance.
The Crimson Tide (8-1-1, 1-0 SEC) is coming off a 2-0 win over then-No. 5 South Carolina at home on Thursday.
UT owns a 13-8-1 advantage in the all-time series against UA and is 6-3-1 when playing at home. The teams last met in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 19, 2020, when UT lost 3-1.
In a celebration of 50 years of Title IX, Tennessee will don its new Summitt Blue jerseys for the match.
UP NEXT: The Lady Vols will travel to Kentucky for a 1 p.m. ET contest on Sunday that will be streamed on SECN+.
SCOUTING ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide went 11-10-1 last season and was picked to finish fifth in the SEC this season as voted on by the league's coaches. UA returns 23 players from the 2021 campaign while adding seven newcomers. ROCKING THE BLUES: In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Tennessee Athletics' recently updated brand standards has renamed the blue accent color historically associated with the Lady Vols "Summitt Blue."
Summitt Blue stands alongside "Smokey Grey" and "Dark Mode" (formerly Anthracite) as the three accent colors on Tennessee Athletics' official color palette. Soccer is one of four teams that will debut the Summitt Blue uniforms during the upcoming 2022-23 academic year – a collection dubbed the "Summitt Legacy" series.
TRACKING THOMAS: Jaida Thomas has now tallied eight goals over the last seven games, moving her career total to 33. She is tied with Hannah Wilkinson at second all-time in career scoring at UT and trails No. 1 Kylee Rossi by only 10.
ROMIG IN THE RECORD BOOK: Lindsey Romig earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording a career-high nine goals at Florida. She currently sits at third all-time in the Tennessee record book with a save percentage of .802, and her career goals against average of .940 ranks fourth. She is seventh all-time in career saves with 191 and ties Shae Yanez at third in most career shutouts (21).
TOP 10 NUMBERS: Tennessee has scored 27 goals on the year to rank fifth in the country in scoring offense at 3.38. The Lady Vols' 3.12 assists per game ranks sixth, and their 10.50 shots on goal per game is seventh.
TENNESSEE ON TOP: The Lady Vols were picked to finish first in the SEC as voted on by the conference's 14 head coaches. UT is coming off a 2021 campaign in which it won a program-best 20 games, clinching an SEC Tournament Championship and going 20-3 en route to the NCAA Round of 16.
I saw bama, at home, beat south carolina, and they have a nice team--a lot of seniors, they get forward and they seem hungry and confident. But it's also true that South Carolina was completely toothless in attack. We will have to play a good game from start to finish--and probably use our depth more than Kirt did against Florida, when he inexplicably left Huff on the field in the first half to the point where she could hardly walk.
I think the main problem with our defense is the new system that Kirt seems wedded to--it's more of an attacking formation and it's been clear from the start of the season that it leaves us more vulnerable to counters and lost possession in the middle of the field. Our outside back-line defenders--Katz and Rain--are getting forward, but possibly too much. It's one thing to play high when you are an outside back--as they both were last year--and you have two centerbacks behind, as was the case in last year's 4-4-2. But when you are in a 3-back system and two of your last-line defender are getting forward, you've might get caught with only got last-line defender in the back--and that is dangerous. I've no idea why Kirt's stuck with a new system that simply isn't working as well as last year's system.
I also think our outside mids in the new system are a weakness. None of the three (Zaluski and Dipasupil on the left, Nelson on the right) can beat a defender with the dribble and go forward; and none of them are particularly strong in defense. None of them are really physically strong or very dynamic. They get forward--but typically only when our central mids get the ball forward, and then the problem is, if we lose possession, the recovery speed of our outside backs is not good. Watch if Nelson gets well into our attacking half and the ball starts going the other way: she cannot get back very with her lopey running style and so it is left to Huff and Fusco to chase down the ball on the wings. It's more work for them.
In any case, I've said all this before--we'll see how it goes tonight. With an early start I wonder if we'll have a decent crowd.
After Alabama fell to BYU in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, head coach Wes Hart knew his team deserved to lose.
The Crimson Tide were on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline, comfortably beaten by a team that would eventually advance to the College Cup. But in that defeat, Hart saw a glimmer of something, suggestions that his side might be more competitive going forward.
“Even though it's four to one, we presented some challenges for them and had some good looks,” Hart said.
Ten months on from that loss, Hart’s analysis is starting to come together. His Alabama team has won eight of its first 10 games, beating four ranked teams on the way. And although the season is still in its early knockings — championships, of course, are not clinched in September — there are signs that the Crimson Tide might just be in for a deeper run.
“I think we're incredibly talented. And I don't think there are too many teams that we couldn't compete with and beat on any given day,” Hart said,
Alabama entered the season unranked and, for most outsiders, written off. It had gone 11-10-1 in 2021, scraping an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. And although it snatched a 1-0 win over Clemson in the first round, the Tide looked to have reached their ceiling as a second-round team. But this year, a solid spring season gave way to a promising August, and this Alabama team, at the very least, is incredibly difficult to beat.
This is all of little surprise to Hart. Now in his seventh season at the helm in Tuscaloosa, the former Florida State assistant has pieced the program together, building on small successes. For him, this isn’t a fluke start. Rather, it’s the fruition of something that began a long time ago, the payoff for a squad that has aged together, adapted together, and might yet win together.
“We’ve not changed anything,” Hart said. “This is what we've been trying to do for years now. It's just all kind of coming together.”
“It was not as if we're an overnight success”
Alabama’s quick start can be traced back to 2018. Riley Mattingly Parker and Kat Rogers — then relatively unheralded recruits — walked onto campus as freshmen. They were joined by two others, the four freshmen combining for 23 starts in an unremarkable year. The Tide spluttered in SEC play and settled for an 8-8-3 record. And by the end of 2020, only two of those recruits — Mattingly Parker and Rogers — remained.
The following year, though, things changed. Hart raked in a more promising group, bringing 10 new faces to Tuscaloosa. There was versatile defender Reyna Reyes from a top Texas club. Sasha Pickard and Bella Scaturro were drawn from Colorado and California. Those three, plus a flurry of other new faces, landed Hart his first top 15 class as an Alabama coach. That group contributed consistently, while the duo of Mattingly Parker and Rogers continued to grow.
And their improvement was reflected on the pitch. Alabama went 10-7-3, amassing a .500 SEC record and upsetting Auburn in the first round of the conference tournament.
“That was a very good recruiting class. Back in 2019, we had about six or seven of those starting regularly,” Hart said.
Season-by-season, the group progressed. And while one or two transferred out, most of the core stayed together. Meanwhile, Hart scoured the transfer portal for further options, using existing connections to hunt down fresh talent to bolster the squad. A few players that he’d coveted out of high school while at Floride State, including now star player Riley Tanner, became available. When her name popped up, he jumped.
“When she hit the portal, I don't think I'd spoken to her, had much thought of her for about three years,” Hart said. “I saw the name hit the board, and I'm like, you know, what, I'm gonna reach out and give her a call.”
Tanner was interested and joined the squad ahead of the 2021 season. Her offensive production was relatively steady — three goals and three assists — but it was another layer to a team that was hitting its stride. The 2021 campaign ended in heartbreak, but things quickly turned around last spring. The Tide brought back some of its best players, and Mattingly Parker — who missed the whole fall season with injury — worked her way into the fold in spring 2022.
“We had some good freshmen coming in, and we knew this could be our year,” Reyes said.
Her premonition was backed up by a solid spring campaign. Hart scheduled three SEC teams in an attempt to weigh up the competition for the fall. The Crimson Tide snatched a draw against Vanderbilt, before depositing both Mississippi State and in-state foes Auburn. After those victories, the rest of the league took notice.
“I talked to a few coaches of teams we played against in the spring, and they're like, ‘Oh my goodness, y'all are gonna be a handful in the fall’,” Hart recalled.
“It was not a surprise to us”
Miami(w) midfielder Megan Morgan received the ball about 25 yards from goal. In the second after, the Alabama defense seemed to do everything right. Macy Clem cut off a passing lane. Sydney Japic closed down the attacker. But Morgan released a speculative shot, one that bounced over the outstretched arm of Alabama goalkeeper McKinley Crone and into the net. Marianna Annest turned away in frustration, Crone watched the ball for a couple of seconds, frozen on the ground.
Alabama pushed for an equalizer. It tallied 22 shots to Miami’s three, earned seven corner kick’s to Miami’s one. Reyes had a good look saved late in the second half, and a couple of other chances also went awry. The 1-0 loss back on Aug. 21, then, was a frustrating one.
But it wasn’t a crushing one. Four days later, Hart’s side was back on the pitch and comfortably beat Southern Mississippi at home.
“It was like: ‘that's not happening again, that was not the standard that we know we can hold’,” Crone said.
What followed was a sparkling run. Three ranked opponents were dispatched, including Clemson and South Carolina. Over the next eight games, the Crimson Tide only conceded four goals while scoring 24. They are tied atop the SEC and have only one loss to their name.
The stats are good, too. Mattingly Parker is second in the SEC with seven goals. Felicia Knox has a conference-best eight assists. Crone is saving shots at an 84 percent clip and the team as a whole only allows seven shots per game.
There’s competition at every position and the squad can tweak styles based on the opponent. Gianna Paul can be a game changer with her pace up front, Rogers’ passing has unlocked some tight defenses.
“We have a dominant person for each position, a senior or something, which is good, but we have good depth on the team to fill those positions as well,” Reyes said.
There is, of course, reason for caution. The Crimson Tide may have started fast, but the season is only four weeks old. Tonight, they play Tennessee, their presumptive biggest rival in grabbing the SEC crown. There are further obstacles, too, with Arkansas and Ole Miss(w) still on the schedule — as well as an inevitably tricky derby at Auburn.
“Now we've got a little bit of a little bit of a target on our back,” Hart said.
The Crimson Tide got a second shot at BYU on September 6 — a rematch of their NCAA Tournament loss from the previous season. And Alabama delivered. After conceding early, it rattled off three straight goals before surviving late pressure to cling on to a 3-2 win in Utah. That resultwasn’t a revenge game, Hart stressed, but perhaps a testament to how far the team has come. What remains to be seen, then, is how far it might go.
“This team has the talent to do whatever we set our minds out to do,” Crone said
Lady Vols look to establish themselves atop the SEC against No. 6 Alabama
Tennessee women’s soccer is set to face off against No. 6 Alabama at Regal Soccer Stadium on Thursday. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. EST.
The Lady Vols (5-2-1, 1-0 SEC) are coming off a 2-1 win at Florida in their SEC opener. Mackenzie George and Taylor Huff rounded out the scoring for Tennessee.
“I thought we competed well. Florida did a good job on the counter and put us in some tough situations, but overall, I thought we did well,” head coach Joe Kirt said. “We kept the ball well, created some really good chances, missed a couple of opportunities to go up three-nothing which probably would have put the game away, but overall did well, and coming out of a game with a win is always a good thing.”
Senior goalie Lindsey Romig recorded a career-high nine saves as she kept the Tennessee lead safe on multiple occasions. Her performance was good enough to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
“It (Lindsay’s performance) certainly instills confidence in our team and the players in front of her,” Kirt said. “You’ve got a seasoned group that has played a lot of soccer running right through the middle of the field, and they do a great job in keeping us organized, but certainly Lindsey is the anchor at the back.”
Junior Jaida Thomas finally ended a six-game scoring streak that has lasted since the second game of the season. Thomas recently moved into a tie for second in the Lady Vols’ all-time goals list and looks to become the sole owner of that spot after Thursday’s contest.
Now, the preseason favorite to win the SEC is set for its conference home opener against the Tide (8-1-1), who is having a program-best year up-to-date.
Alabama’s No. 6 ranking is its highest in program history, and the team has taken down three ranked opponents this season, with two being ranked in the top 10.
“It goes back to us continuing to be connected and be responsible in our defending,” Kirt said. “I think from a match-up standpoint we’re pretty excited on both sides of it. It’s going to be a great game — they’re a talented team and they’ve certainly been playing well.”
The Crimson Tide have won or tied in their last seven matchups, with their only loss coming early in the season to Miami.
Last season, Alabama and Tennessee had a preseason scrimmage that ended in a 0-0 tie. The Lady Vols lead the all-time series 13-8-1.
Tennessee currently sits just outside of the top 25 after beginning the season ranked No. 11. With a win over Alabama, the Lady Vols could find themselves flying up the rankings.
A tough slate challenged Tennessee at the beginning of the season, with the Lady Vols facing three ranked opponents out of the gates. Now, they get their first test to see how far they’ve come.
“I think our team is ready and prepared for it and excited by the opportunity and the challenge,” Kirt said. “We’ve obviously grown from those games, and I think that will serve us well in this game.”
Tennessee now looks to establish itself as the top-tier SEC that they were expected to be heading into this season against Alabama.
“Every game is battle and our players understand that and know that and why they are excited,” Kirt said. “They love to compete. They love to get out there and get after it.”
Kirt goes with the same 3-5-2 but changes the outside mids: Hennessey is in Nelson's right-wing spot while freshman Midgley is in for Zalusky. Happy to see the coaches trying to improve the lineup. It's been my thought to have Hennessey in the back, in Katz's spot, and move Katz up to outside mid--as she is a natural midfielder.
What I don't understand--and I think this was a Kirt screwup: Why not try different lineup combinations while you're playing lesser non-conference opponents--of which we had four? That was the time to try different personnel and he didn't do it--he rolled out the same lineup every game. Now he's made a change before a very big game. Let's hope Hennessey and Midgley give us a little more, and win this one.