With a drawn-out pause, Brian Pensky cleared his throat.
In a raspy voice, the Lady Vols soccer coach used the words disappointed and proud within the same breath.
"We talked about our disappointment, but there is so much to be proud of," he said via his cell phone.
The reason for disappointment is clear — elimination.
The third-seeded Lady Vols fell short to sixth-seeded Auburn in penalty kicks on Wednesday following a 110 minutes of scoreless play in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament in Orange Beach, Ala.
Senior Kylie Bono's penalty kick was saved, as the Tigers (11-9-1) connected on all five of their attempts.
The No. 19 Lady Vols (14-4-3) will head home and await the results of the NCAA tournament selection show on Monday.
Tennessee was also upset by Auburn in last year's SEC tournament.
"It stings," Pensky said. "There's nothing worse than being eliminated."
But Pensky was quick to list the reasons he was proud.
"This group is a bunch of fighters," he said. "Those are the kind of kids you want. I am very lucky as a coach. They fight every game."
And the Lady Vols competitive spirit was certainty spotlighted on Wednesday evening.
Tennessee played short-handed for the match's last 41 minutes after Caroline Capocaccia was handed a red card.
The Lady Vols forged on with their remaining 10 players to hold Auburn scoreless in the two overtime periods, while managing to put two challeng
ing shots on goal.
UT was given four yellow cards and a red card in the contest.
"The penalties are something that we aren't necessarily happy about, but it's a result of being competitive," Pensky said. "Being down a player and playing good defense, that's something."
Sophomore goalkeeper Julie Eckel fronted the defensive efforts with eight saves.
The UT goalkeeper made a diving stop off an Auburn free kick just outside the box with less than four minutes remaining in the second overtime.
The Tigers tested the Eckel often, outshooting UT 22-10.
"We knew Auburn was going to be a good team," Pensky said. "Still, they're disappointed. This group knows how good they can be."
Pensky said the key for his team moving forward will be channeling that disappointment into motivation.
"We have to take this disappointment with us into the (NCAA) tournament," he said. "We don't want to experience this again any time soon. We have to remember what this feels like."
Riley Blevins is a freelance contributor.