Soccer team triumphs over Texas A&M

An outstanding Lady Vol defensive effort and a first-half penalty kick conversion from sophomore forward Caroline Brown helped the Tennessee soccer squad to an impressive 1-0 victory over No. 18 Texas A&M at Regal Soccer Stadium during the final day action Sunday of the First Tennessee Lady Vol Classic.

Video interview with Coach Angela Kelly:

Video highlights:

The crucial penalty call was drawn by the slick footwork of Tennessee Junior Alexis Owens at 34:16. The Carmel, Ind., native managed to get past diving Aggie goalkeeper Jordan Day inside the 18-yard box, forcing the net-minder into a tripping call that left no option but for the head official to point to the penalty spot. For Caroline Brown the penalty kick conversion raised her team-leading total to four goals over the first four matches of 2011.

In a very physical match that saw each team whistled for 15 fouls with five total yellow cards issued (three for the Aggies), Texas A&M outshot the Lady Vols by a 15-8 margin and 6-3 in shots on frame, but the Big Orange (3-1-0) managed a 4-3 advantage on corner kicks.

On her way to earning First Tennessee Lady Vol Classic All-Tournament honors alongside her teammates Brown and freshman defender Allie Sirna, rookie goalkeeper Julie Eckel made five stops in securing the third triumph of her brief collegiate career and her first solo shutout.

Senior forward Emily Dowd led the Big Orange with three shots, while Brown and freshman Lexi Krause registered two and one drive on frame, respectively.

"That was a battle," Lady Vol Head Coach Angela Kelly said. "Texas A&M is a very well organized team, and they've been at the top of the Big 12 Conference for years. G (Texas A&M Head Coach Guerrieri) and his staff do a tremendous job, and I have a ton of respect for that program and what they do.

"I'm really proud of our effort and once again in how our team responded on a Sunday, although that's the expectation here at Tennessee. We always have a strong out-of-conference schedule because you have to play the best in order to ever achieve the best. That's what we do here at Tennessee. This out-of-conference schedule is going to prepare us for anything we may face inside the conference and ultimately in opponents, styles and surfaces that we may face in the NCAA Tournament.

"We are very focused, and we're not going to rest on our laurels. Obviously, we're very excited with this win, but our focus is to be professional about our recovery and be ready to go (in training) on Tuesday."

The early going saw a lot of midfield play as the battle over the valuable middle third raged back and forth. The lone shot over the first 18:04 coming on a wide drive from Texas A&M defender Mary Grace Schmidt during the fifth minute.

UT did manage corner kicks at 9:20 and 12:10, the first drawn by solid work from Dowd. A&M keeper Day managed to corral the first cross in a crowd, while the Orange & White failed to manage a shot on either corner.

During the 13th minute Aggie midfielder Merritt Mathias went on a long solo run up the middle against the Tennessee backline. She couldn't get a solid look at goal, however, as she was harassed at each and every turn by the Orange-clad defense made up of Sirna, freshman Alison Clarke, senior Hannah Hut and sophomore Tori Bailey.

The match finally began to open up offensively during the 19th minute as Dowd raced up the right wing and fired a shot from a tough angle about eight yards out that hit the side netting.

Just 1:55 later off a UT throw-in, Brown beat her defender near the right side of the 18 and launched a blast from six yards out that Day stopped on a dive before the ball was quickly cleared out of harm's way.

At the other end of the pitch during the 23rd minute of action, a poor Tennessee defensive clearance landed right at the feet of Texas A&M's Chelsea Jones standing about 16 yards out on the left side. The Aggie midfielder settled the sphere and ripped a bending shot that Eckel stopped on a dive just outside the left post as the scoreless dead-lock continued.

Things got a little hairy for the Lady Vols in the 32nd and 33rd minutes as Kelley Monogue launched back-to-back shots over a 1:06 time frame that ricocheted off the crossbar and right post.

After UT escaped the close calls unscathed, it was Owens' chance to shine at 34:16 as a ball played into the middle of the 18 by freshman forward Iyana Moore landed at the feet of Owens. She pivoted quickly and managed to get around the keeper Day whose only option was to trip the UT player to save a potential score. The head official pointed at the spot and Brown calmly stepped up to drive home her fourth goal of the season for a vital 1-0 lead.

Texas A&M's Bianca Brinson fired high of net at 34:41 and forced an Eckel stop at 35:38 as the Aggies fiercely began their search for an equalizer.

UT rookie Lexi Krause made sure Day didn't get complacent between the pipes on the other end during the 39th minute by firing on frame from 15 yards out on a sharp angle.

A corner kick for both squads down the stretch failed to result in a single shot for either team as Tennessee and Texas A&M ventured to the half with UT ahead, 1-0.

The Big Orange came out of the break putting on a lot of offensive pressure, but it was the Aggies' Mathias that was credited with the first shot of the second stanza on a blocked offering at 48:33.

Following a lot of midfield play, A&M's Annie Kunz launched a drive from just out of the right side of the six-yard box that was blocked by the Tennessee defense at 56:04. A follow-up cross into the middle was corralled on a diving stop by Eckel.

At 57:44 the UT backline again saved the day as a Lady Vol positioned near the goal line managed to keep a shot from A&M defender Meghan Streight from going in the net via a vital team save.

With the Aggies ramping up the heat in a desperate attempt to draw even, things got a little chippy as the head official ended up displaying five total yellow cards, including two on each team over a stretch from 74:27 to 84:11.

As regulation time began to ebb away, Eckel continued her inspired play between the pipes, stopping shots from Mathias at 80:46 and 82:04. On the latter of the two stops the Cordova, Tenn., native managed to deflect the drive outside the right post, but saw the ball land about a foot over the end line. On the resulting A&M corner, Eckel managed to leap high in the midst of a crowd inside the six-yard box to punch the cross out of danger.

That proved the last solid scoring chance for Texas A&M as Lady Vol senior forward Chelsea Hatcher, Dowd and junior midfielder Amy Harrison put on a time-wasting clinic over the last few minutes, maintaining almost constant possession as the Lady Vols secured one of the biggest wins in recent program history.

Tennessee returns to action on Friday, Sept. 2, by hosting in-state foe Middle Tennessee in a 7 p.m. ET match at the Regal Soccer Stadium.

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