The No. 1 seed Razorback soccer team suffered a 3-1 defeat to seventh-seeded Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament final in Orange Beach, Alabama, on Sunday afternoon. Arkansas has now lost in the SEC Tournament final five years in a row.
The Razorbacks beat Auburn in the quarterfinals and South Carolina in the semis to advance to the title game without facing a deficit in either competition.
Arkansas held a lead in each game throughout the tournament, including the defeat in the final.
The championship started with a flurry of goals within the first five minutes. The Hogs took just 46 seconds to go on top. Senior midfielder Kayla McKeon settled a deflected shot inside the box and placed it into the corner for an early lead.
The Razorbacks’ advantage would not last long, with Vanderbilt tying the game two minutes later with a set piece. The Commodores were quickly awarded a penalty kick for a mistimed slide tackle from senior defender Haley VanFossen. Sophomore midfielder Kimya Raietparvar smashed her shot attempt into the side netting leaving Razorback goalkeeper Taylor Beitz no chance.
Vanderbilt capitalized on the momentum from the equalizer and scored a go-ahead goal in the fifth minute. Junior midfielder Raegan Kelley got on the end of a cross from senior midfielder Leila Azari and sent a glancing header to the far post for the lead.
After an eventful beginning, both teams settled in and scoring opportunities became few and far between. McKeon had a chance to tie the game in the 30th minute when her shot beat the Commodore goalkeeper but was blocked on the goal line by Raietparvar.
The teams went into halftime with Vanderbilt leading by one.
Vanderbilt dominated possession in the second half. The ball retention helped the Commodores double their lead after a long-range strike from freshman midfielder Abi Brighton. She took a touch forward from outside the box and unleashed a shot that smacked the bottom of the crossbar on its way into the goal.
Arkansas head coach Colby Hale spoke highly of his opponents’ attacking play in a postgame interview.
“We still had a chance or two but they played well and scored a couple of nice goals,” Hale said. “They had one from distance that made it 3-1 and I think (that) took the mojo away from us.”
The Hogs did not register a shot on goal until 25 minutes into the second half. Vanderbilt goalkeeper Sarah Fuller displayed strong hands and corralled any attempt toward her goal in the latter stage of the game. Vanderbilt outshot Arkansas by a total of 14-9.
Following the final whistle, Vanderbilt wielded away in celebration of the program’s first SEC tournament title since 1994.
“They just hit their stride at the right time,” Hale said, when discussing the Commodores improbable run of beating the top three seeded teams in the tournament.
Hale offered insight on the shortened season in his postgame speech.
‘I just told them, ‘these things do not define you...we had a lot of great memories from this season,’” Hale said. “They have a lot to be proud of.”
Razorback Soccer finishes the season with a record of 9-2.
The team won its second-consecutive regular-season SEC title, yet the SEC Tournament crown still eludes the Hogs for now.
“Unfortunately, today was not our day,” Hale said.
The NCAA Tournament is set for spring 2021, but the format and bracket size have not been released yet.