Alissa Vonderhaar scored a goal at the 76th minute to bring Tennessee (2-1-0) within one goal of tying the game, but a Tech (2-1-0) defensive stand led by redshirt-junior goalkeeper Ashley Owens (Greensboro, N.C.) in the final 14 minutes of the game preserved the Hokies' second career upset over a ranked opponent, the first coming against No. 19 Wake Forest in 2004 by a winning score of 3-2.
"Even after Tennessee scored that goal, I did not want our kids to lose this game because of how hard they played," Head Coach Kelly Cagle said. "This is one of the best games our program has put together in terms of the type of soccer we played, our execution and our fight. For that, I'm really proud of these kids. I believe they deserved the win tonight because of that. We played against a very good Tennessee team."
Tech and Tennessee went back and forth pressing the ball against one another from the beginning in the home opener until freshman Marika Gray (Alexandria, Va.) scored her first of two goals at the 18th minute. After receiving a pass from sophomore Robin Chidester (Virginia Beach, Va.), Gray dribbled briefly and kicked past goalie Jaimel Johnson for the 1-0 lead.
About two minutes later, Gray added what would become the game-winning goal in a scramble in front of the goal with an assist from Kelly Lynch (Mullica Hill, N.J.).
"She's so dangerous in everything she does because of a lot of her physical attributes," Cagle said. "Marika wants to be a doctor, and she wants to learn the game. She tells me all the time that she has so much to learn and wants to improve. What a great combination of God given talent on top of somebody who's eager to get better. We couldn't be happier that she's here."
On the defensive end, Owens recorded seven saves, tying a career high that she set against a No. 2 North Carolina squad in a tough 1-0 loss last season. One of the more impressive moments happened late in the game at the 78th minute when the Lady Vols' goalie Jaimel Johnson placed a free kick from mid-field to a crowded group in front of Tech's goal. Jumping, Owens punched the ball out and fell to the ground. Getting up quickly, she made a tremendous save to preserve the win on a kick by Mick Imgram who had the ball off the rebound.
"That's what goalkeepers work on all the time is 'quick-ups', where you're down on the ground and have to get up again," Cagle said about the chain of events. "It was awesome."
The stats reflect how evenly matched and physical the game was as Tennessee led in shots only 13-11, 7-4 in the second half, and in corner kicks 6-5. Both teams combined for 22 fouls. Cagle believes though that it was the strong effort and constant pressure by the Hokie squad from the first minute to the 90th minute that proved to be the difference.
"This result feels really good, but it feels really good to me on how hard our kids played," Cagle said. "I kept telling them that if we play that hard and stick to a plan, I truly believe that we can play with anybody. The credit really goes to them for doing it."
The soccer team concludes the Hawthorn Suites Hokie Invitational against the Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds on Sunday, Sept. 9, at 4 p.m. In the first game of the tournament on Friday, Loyola won its first game of the season by defeating No. 24 Wake Forest 2-1.