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This Week in UT Sports History – Sept. 14th-20th

Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

Conference schedules for Tennessee soccer and volleyball arrived last week as the Southeastern Conference finalized plans for fall sports. Volleyball head coach Eve Rackham and the Lady Vols face six weeks of conference play beginning Oct. 16 with four home and four away matches. They will face Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and Auburn this fall. Meanwhile, Tennessee Soccer and head coach Brian Pensky commence play this weekend on the road against Alabama. They will face an eight-game slate leading up to the SEC Tournament slated for Nov. 13-22.

Twelve days now remain before SEC football kicks off as temperatures cool across the Southeast. With fall seasons, sporting and otherwise, on the horizon, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at past seasons this week in UT sports history:

Sept. 19, 1998

The perfect season almost ended nearly as soon as it began. Barely squeaking out a win against Syracuse, 34-33, in the first game of the 1998 season, the Vols faced rival Florida in Game 2. Regulation ended with the score tied at 17 all. Tensions ran high in Neyland Stadium as Phillip Fulmer and Steve Spurrier paced the sidelines. Only one coach, one team, would win.

That team stood clad in Big Orange.

Challenger, the bald eagle, had flown over the field as nearly 108,000 fans cheered in anticipation of a SEC brawl. The home team thrived defensively in the first half. The Vols scooped up three fumbles and filled the box score with two sacks. Defensive leader Al Wilson thwarted a Florida attempt for six on after a 10-play drive put them within spitting distance of the checkerboards early in the first quarter. However, offense remained sluggish, putting up 10 points in the first half to Florida’s three.

In a game won by defense, the Vols put on a show. In the second half, Deon Grant palmed a one-handed interception at midfield to send the faithful in orange and white into a frenzy, a glimmer of hope in a close game. Florida dashed those hopes as Travis McGriff ran 70 yards for a touchdown on a third and 11 down.

The two teams went to overtime when kicker Jeff Hall put the ball through the uprights for a 3-point lead. Florida stood poised to answer from 32-yards out. Heads hung in thinking about second overtime. The kick went up.

No good.

The losing streak to Spurrier’s Gators came to a close as throngs of fans stormed the field and tore down both goal posts, which they paraded down Cumberland Avenue and sold piece by piece, though one purportedly met its end in the Tennessee River.

The Florida game provided a boost to fan and team moral that led to one of the greatest seasons in Tennessee history. The 1998 team, of course, earned a 13-0 record with a national championship win against Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl.

This year, the Vols will face Florida on Dec. 5 in Knoxville. The 2020 season kicks off on Sept. 26 as Tennessee travels to South Carolina for a night game in Columbia. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on SEC Network.

Sept. 15, 2002

Tennessee’s soccer team finally gets to take the field this week after COVID-19 delayed the season. In 2002, the No. 16 Vols traveled to Clemson, South Carolina, for the Clemson/Nike Invitational. After beating Western Carolina, 3-1, in the first matchup, they faced the home team. Clemson, ranked 12th in the country, looked to defend its turf. The Tigers failed in that pursuit. Tennessee picked up a shutout victory, 2-0 before a crowd of 418 at Riggs Field.

Tennessee got off to a host start when Rhian Wilkinson passed to Kayla Lockaby for a shot from the left side. The ball sailed into the goal at the 4:07 mark. The Vols fought for 11 shots on goal versus Clemson’s five. Leading by one nearly the entire match, Kim Patrick picked up Tennessee’s second goal with a header over the goalie at 85:41.

With time running out, Clemson’s Paige Ledford took a shot that hit the post at 87:23. The Tigers retained possession, and Lindsay Browne sent another shot soaring toward the goal. Tennessee goalie Ellen Dean snagged the ball for the save with less than two minutes on the clock.

The Vols’ record improved to 5-1-0 early in the season with the win. They finished the 2002 season with an 18-6-1 (6-2-1 SEC) record. The 2020 team faces Alabama this Saturday, Sept. 19, at 2:00 p.m.

Sept. 17, 2004

Tennessee Volleyball got off to a rollicking start in 2004. Eight wins led up to a matchup with Virginia Tech at a tournament in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After defeating Western Michigan the day before, 3-1, the Lady Vols picked up win number nine against the Hokies ahead of their first loss of the season, one of only three on the record by December.

Winning the first three sets, Tennessee took the match handily. Having won each prior matchup 3-0 or 3-1 on the season, the Lady Vols stood stunned when Michigan defended its home court with the final 3-1 in its favor the next day. Tennessee proceeded to win nine matchups 3-0 or 3-1 after the loss. But again, a team stepped in to spoil the streak in the same fashion. No. 8 Florida took down the Vols in Knoxville, 3-1, on Oct. 22. The Lady Vols exacted revenge to close out the regular season with a 3-2 victory in Gainesville as they stormed to a 14-game win streak including yet another win against the Gators, this time to clinch the SEC Tournament title.

The Lady Vols finished the season 32-3 (15-1 SEC). They reached the NCAA Regional Semifinal round, losing to Ohio State by a final of 3-2.

The 2020 season begins at 7 p.m. against Kentucky in Lexington on Oct. 16. This season marks head coach Eve Rackham’s third on Rocky Top. The Lady Vols earned a record of 26-6 (16-2 SEC) in 2018 but struggled to click again in 2019, going 15-13 (9-9 SEC).

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