Perhaps the most remarkable story of last weekend's women's conference action was Tennessee's SEC championship. With an 8-10-1 record, the Lady Vols' only path to an eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance was to win the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Ala. To make their task more difficult, Preseason All-American Kylee Rossi was sidelined with a hip injury that has ended her career.
"To be perfectly honest, this season has been atypical for us," Coach Angela Kelly said after the 1-0 win over Georgia in the final. "Win or lose this game, I was proud of how this team has faced adversity. I believe that it doesn't develop character, it reveals it. For this young team to be able to come back from [losing Rossi], it just says loads about them. I hope they take these life lessons. The byproduct is winning but it is all about becoming a winner."
Tennessee, which came back from its position as a No. 6 seed to capture its fourth SEC championship, won on a goal by Julie Edwards, who one-timed Tanya Emerson's cross past Georgia goalie Michelle Betos in the 61st minute. The Vols held Georgia to one shot on goal in the second half.
Emerson and Mick Imgram scored in the 2-1 win over Auburn to open the SEC Tournament.
In the semifinals, goalie Jaimel Johnson stopped two shots in the shootout to give the Vols a 4-2 win over LSU after their game ended at 1-1 following overtime.
"When the overtime finished, Jaimel said she was glad it went to overtime," Kelly said. "She's just a gamer. I've said it a million times; she's the best goalkeeper in the country. She's a great shot stopper. To save two penalties and almost get her hand on another, she's amazing. I'm just so grateful, and have been for four years, that she chose Tennessee."
Joining Johnson on the team were Emerson, Edwards and Chelsea Hatcher, who dominated the midfield.
Tennessee opens NCAA Tournament play against Charlotte, one of the hottest teams in the country, Friday night in Chapel Hill, N.C. The 49ers won the Atlantic-10 Tournament to extend their school-record winning streak to 14 games.
The game will be a homecoming of sorts for Kelly. She starred at North Carolina, playing on four national championship teams and early three All-NCAA Tournament awards during her career (1991-94).