Owens' hat trick leads Lady Vols to win over No. 6 Gators, 4-2

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (school release) -- Behind the first career hat trick from junior forward Alexis Owens in her initial start of 2011, the 11th-ranked Tennessee Lady Vol soccer team (8-2-0, 1-1-0 Southeastern Conference) powered past the sixth-ranked Florida Gators (8-3-0, 1-1-0 SEC), 4-2, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in front of 1,480 fans (including U.S. soccer legend Mia Hamm) at the Regal Soccer Stadium.

With the triumph the Lady Vols improved to an impressive 5-0-1 over their last six matches against Florida in Knoxville and now haven’t lost to the Gators on the home pitch since Oct. 5, 1999. The four goals also are the most tallies for UT in a league contest since topping Mississippi State, 4-0, back on Oct. 21, 2007.

Tennessee also continued its best start in program history at 8-2-0 overall, topping the best previous record after 10 matches of 7-2-1 done by the 2007 Lady Vol squad.

The three-goal performance by Owens marked the first for a Tennessee soccer player since Kayla Lockaby’s hat trick against Murray State way back on Sept. 8, 2002. Owens, a Carmel, Ind., native, had entered today’s match against UF with just two career goals over 44 matches played during her time clad in the Orange & White.

Lady Vol senior forward Emily Dowd chipped in her sixth goal of the season to complete the scoring for UT and assisted on Owens’ initial tally to make it four multiple-point efforts for the Gainesville, Fla., product over UT’s last six contests. Sophomore forward Caroline Brown contributed a pair of assists, improving her team-high point total to 21 on eight goals and five helpers in 2011. Freshman goalkeeper Julie Eckel made two saves between the pipes on the way to her eighth career victory in net.

“Friday (2-1, 2OT loss to South Carolina) was tough, and we needed to regroup,” Lady Vol Coach Angela Kelly said. “Florida’s a tremendous team. We had to organize ourselves to be able to prepare for what they were going to throw at us. You know there were ebb and flows in this match, and we were able to sustain their pressure. What a heck of a team, and I have a ton of respect for the University of Florida.”

For the third time in 2011, Tennessee scored on its initial shot of the match as Dowd delivered a perfect through ball up the right wing to Owens who buried a shot from 10 yards out past Florida keeper Taylor Burke just 4:05 in.

Tennessee continued to press the advantage on the Florida end for the majority of the first half. At the 22:37 mark, Dowd granted the Lady Vols a 2-0 lead, taking a through ball from Brown and blasting it to the far side of the net from 12 yards out for her sixth goal of the campaign.

With the Gators owning just a single shot to that point in the opening stanza via a header wide from forward McKenzie Barney at 13:01, Owens continued the Big Orange onslaught 13 minutes later. She won a one-on-one battle with a Gator defender, taking the ball into the box and sliding it past Burke to improve the advantage to a staggering 3-0 at the 35:48 mark. That marked the first time in the history of the series between the two schools that UT had recorded three scores in a match versus UF.

The Lady Vols held a commanding 3-0 lead at the half, but the Gators came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders to begin the second frame.

Erika Tymrak was pulled down inside the 18-yard box just 1:38 into the half, drawing a penalty kick that she was able to convert for her eighth goal of 2011 to pull Florida back into the game a 3-1.

The Gator pressure continued unabated during the 54th and 55th minutes as UF managed three consecutive corner kicks. The Big Orange defense was forced to work very hard to limit Florida to only an ambitious shot by Taylor Travis from 24 yards out that traveled well wide left.

The Lady Vols’ first real offensive attack of the second half came in the 61st minute as a cross by senior forward Chelsea Hatcher from the right wing just missed locating the head of a leaping Owens at the left post.

Following the brief respite the Gator offense raced back the other way and drew a foul on the Lady Vols. Midfielder Annie Speese bent a drive in on Eckel that the Cordova, Tenn., native dove to her left to deflect over the end line.

Florida finally managed to cut Tennessee’s lead to just a single goal on a bit of tough UT luck in the 64th minute. With Havana Solaun racing in towards goal in pursuit of a lead pass, Eckel raced quickly off her line in an attempt to corral the ball before any shot could be registered. Solaun won the race by perhaps an inch, and her tapped shot hit the keeper, popped over and rolled slowly into the left side of the twine.

Eckel came up big at 68:41 as Speese unleashed another bending shot off a free kick. The net minder stopped the drive on a short hop in the middle of the six-yard box and managed to corral a rebound before the Gators could attempt a follow-up.

With Florida pressing hard for an equalizer and having shots by Speese and Solaun blocked by UT defenders, it proved to be Tennessee that would finally seal things at 85:11. Brown delivered another perfect feed up the left wing to Owens, who scored from six yards out near the left post to finalize the huge victory.

After a long home stand it’s finally back to the road for the Big Orange as #11 Tennessee ventures to LSU (Sept. 30 – 7 p.m. CT) and Arkansas (Oct. 2 – 1 p.m. CT) to continue its league slate.