Arkansas’ soccer program won its first conference championship Thursday night 33 years after it was formed.
The No. 6 Razorbacks defeated Tennessee 3-1 in Knoxville, Tenn., to clinch the SEC title outright. Arkansas (14-2-2, 8-1-1 SEC) finished the regular season with 25 points in the standings, one point ahead of second-place South Carolina.
The Gamecocks were unbeaten in conference play and handed the Razorbacks their only SEC loss, but South Carolina was hurt by three ties in its final five conference games.
Arkansas was predicted to finish sixth in the SEC by coaches in the preseason but defeated three of five teams picked to finish higher in the standings, including the Volunteers (9-5-4, 3-5-2).
“It feels good,” Arkansas coach Colby Hale said. “I’m really happy for the players. They’ve put in so much work and made so many sacrifices. They wanted this so bad. We’ve been close and there’s not a more deserving group I’ve been around.
“I think we’ve earned this.”
Arkansas, which extended its unbeaten streak to seven games, never trailed. Parker Goins scored on a penalty kick in the 35th minute to give Arkansas a 1-0 lead at halftime.
It was Goins’ ninth goal of the season and the Razorbacks’ third on a penalty kick in SEC play. The kick was set up when Tennessee’s Abbey Burdette committed a hand ball inside the 18-yard box.
The Razorbacks went ahead 2-0 when Tori Cannata fired a shot off the near post from about 20 yards away in the 51st minute, but Tennessee pulled within 2-1 on a goal by Michelle Alozie 70 seconds later.
Arkansas regained a two-goal advantage in the 58th minute on a header by Bryana Hunter in front of the net. The Razorbacks’ defense took control from there. Arkansas goalkeeper Katie Lund recorded four of her six saves in the second half, with three coming in the final 22 minutes.
“We just kept fighting and had a couple good looks but they made some great saves,” Tennessee Coach Brian Pensky said. “I’m really gutted for our seniors right now for this to have to be their last home game on senior night.”
Arkansas is 6-1 in road games and handed the Vols their second home loss of the season. With the loss, Tennessee did not make the 10-team SEC Tournament field.
Arkansas, which has finished SEC Tournament runner-up three years in a row, will be the No. 1 seed and have a first-round bye. The Razorbacks will play either Ole Miss or Mississippi State in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Orange Beach, Ala.