LEXINGTON, Ky. – The University of Tennessee at Martin soccer team played Kentucky to a draw through regulation in the NCAA Tournament first round this evening, but the Wildcats came away with the golden goal in the 93rd minute to put an end to the Skyhawks’ remarkable season run.
Although the Skyhawks saw their school-record seven-match winning streak snapped tonight, third-year head coach Phil McNamara couldn’t have been more proud of his team’s effort against an extremely formidable opponent.
“To take a program such as Kentucky to overtime, I think that really raises the bar for our program,” McNamara said. “I was delighted with the way we played and how we conformed to be a little more successful for such a balanced attack and force of Kentucky.”
UT Martin was outshot 15 to three tonight, but sophomore goalkeeper Mariah Klenke kept the Skyhawks on par with the Wildcats with her stellar play. The All-OVC first teamer made seven enormous saves, working hand-in-hand with the stingy UT Martin defense to keep the high-scoring Kentucky offense at bay throughout the evening. Klenke made stops in the 25th, 35th, 43rd, 57th, 68th, 78th and 92nd minutes before Kentucky could find a crease when Kelli Hubly received a pass from Arin Gilliland on the right side of the box, took two dribbles and struck the ball into the back left corner of the net past a diving Klenke.
"Kentucky had a nice, balanced, fast attacking front line and it just wore us down a little bit,” McNamara said. “I felt extremely comfortable through the entire duration of the game. I felt like the only way Kentucky was going to score was from a cross or a set piece and that’s a credit to our players for their positioning, pressure on the ball and work rate all night.”
The Skyhawks nearly came up with a goal on their own in the first half. At the 37:35 mark, All-OVC first teamer Hannah McGowen created some separation and drilled a long shot attempt that appeared to be on target for the top left corner of the net. However, Wildcat goalkeeper Kayla King jumped at the last possible second and made a full-extension punch save just over the crossbar.
That would be the only shot on goal for UT Martin, while Alyssa Curtis (high shot in the seventh minute) and Mary Thompson (high header off a corner kick in the 39th minute) also would attempt shots for the Skyhawks.
Tonight’s result caps off an outstanding run for UT Martin, who was making its second NCAA Tournament appearance in as many years. The Skyhawks end the season with a 13-6-3 mark, setting a new program record for single-season winning percentage (.659) while also claiming the program’s first-ever outright OVC regular season championship.
“A lot of college players don’t even get that opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament in their four years,” McGowen said. “This was our second year and we just wanted to go out with a bang for our seniors. I just love these girls so much and we knew in our heart that we had a chance.”
“We have such a great coaching staff and a great group of girls who worked so hard during the season to get to where we are today,” Skyhawk defender Lucy Pater said. “It was really tough when they scored that goal but they were a great opponent and we wish good luck to them – I hope they go far in the tournament.”
The outcome tonight also marked the end of the career for two valuable Skyhawk seniors in Midori Sera and Kendyl Wilson. Sera was one of the league’s best offensive threats in her two seasons at UT Martin while Wilson will graduate as the program’s all-time leader in matches played and with the distinction of being the only player in program history to have been a part of all of the team’s championships (2009, 2011, 2012).
“We kept our composure and we wanted to play our own game,” Wilson said. “We did hold them pretty well for 90 minutes. It’s definitely a different outcome from what happened last year (losing 7-0 to Memphis). Me being a senior, it’s awesome to go out this way – to go into overtime with an SEC school in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I can tell my kids and grandkids and brag about it forever.”