KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With only nine seconds remaining in regulation and down a goal in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Miami (Ohio) season appeared over until sophomore Kelsey Dinges scored in the closing seconds Sunday afternoon to force overtime against No. 20 Tennessee. Then, less than five minutes into the extra session, junior Kayla Zakrzewski buried the game-winner to lift the RedHawks to a 3-2 victory at UT’s Regal Soccer Stadium.
Tennessee finishes the season with a record of 14-5-3. Miami, which set the school record for wins Sunday with its 20th of the season, has now won its NCAA first-round game in each of its last three trips to the NCAA tournament, also winning first-round matches in 2001 and 2002, with the 2002 squad holding the previous wins record of 19.
“When we went down a goal [in the second half] we made an adjustment in our formation because we were chasing the game. The question during the interval between regulation and overtime was do we stick with it and we decided to,” head coach Bobby Kramig said. “There was a certain degree of risk associated with it because we pulled a defender out of the game and to do that when you’re under as much pressure as we were during the game, that is not something to be taken lightly. But we had to do something about the way they were coming out of the back. It was just eating us up all day long, but we’re a MAC school, we’re Miami playing down here at an SEC school in Tennessee, so what do you have to lose. You might as well go for it, so we did.”
The Lady Vols controlled play early, keeping the ball in their attacking end for much of the first 15 minutes. Tennessee broke through in the 26th minute when Alexis Owens cleaned up a rebound to put UT ahead 1-0. Caroline Brown fired the initial shot that redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Allison Norenberg saved, but the rebound popped right to Owens in the middle of the box.
The RedHawks were not deterred however, and responded just a minute later. Miami earned back-to-back corner kicks after the UT goal and capitalized on the second one. Junior Katy Dolesh soared over a Lady Vol defender and headed home a corner off the foot of senior Jess Kodiak past Tennessee keeper Julie Eckel to level the game at 1-1 in the 27th minute.
Miami generated more offense as the opening half went on but the Lady Vols had the best chance to break the deadlock when Owens fired a low line drive from the left side of the box in the 34th minute, however Norenberg sprawled out to make the save. The teams went into the break even at 1-1 with UT holding a 7-5 edge in shots, though the ‘Hawks conceded just one corner kick while earning their two.
Just about five minutes into the second half, UT had another scoring chance with the ball loose in the box but Norenberg made a save and Miami blocked a shot before clearing it out of danger. Tennessee continued to keep the pressure on the ‘Hawks, taking the first six shots of the second half and converting on the sixth one when Katie Lenz played a soft through ball into the box where Brown completed her long run and finished the shot into the right corner of the net for a 2-1 Lady Vol lead.
The RedHawks then awoke and started to string some passes together to work the ball up the field after bringing in multiple offensive substitutions. Dinges took Miami’s first shot of the second stanza in the 85th minute but it sailed wide. With regulation time winding down and the RedHawks needing the equalizer, Dinges stepped up and lofted a bouncing half-volley from just outside the 18-yard box over Eckel’s head and just under the crossbar to knot the match at 2-2 with only nine ticks on the clock.
“I think that we just wanted to keep fighting and didn’t want to run out of time. As soon as the goal went in, we took all the momentum and went forward with it,” Dolesh said. “We had it all going into overtime and we knew we had the greatest chance to score right away.”
In overtime, the Lady Vols had a chance to end the game quickly, earning two corner kicks in the first three minutes of the extra session and hit the crossbar, but Miami was able to clear. The RedHawks then countered the other way and Dinges found Zakrzewski on the left flank, where she cut toward goal and fired a low, line drive into the right corner of the goal just 4:43 into overtime, setting off a dogpile of RedHawks on the field.
“This team has been built on faith and confidence in each other all year long. You live and die with that and that’s what a team’s supposed to be,” Kramig said. “They never panicked, they never quit and that’s the second time this year Dinges has done that [score in the closing seconds]. It was a one-goal game the whole time so there was no reason to stop competing.”
The victory extended Miami’s school-record unbeaten streak to 16 games while the ‘Hawks remained perfect on the road this year at 10-0-0. It was also Miami’s first win against an SEC foe in four tries.
The Lady Vols finished with a 14-10 edge in shots and a 4-2 advantage in corner kicks, but Norenberg tallied four saves, two in each half, to earn the win, compared to just one stop for Eckel.