The Tennessee soccer team is off to a scorching hot start in its spring season. The team has won four straight games to start the spring after falling to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament, cutting its fall season short.
During the four game win streak, the team has outscored opponents 18-1 and completed three shutouts. Tennessee has continued its success from the fall on the defensive side of the ball by being stingy and winning many of the fifty-fifty balls, but the offense has reached new heights this season and exceeded all expectations.
Redshirt freshman Jaida Thomas has stolen the show on offense, as she has scored multiple goals in every contest this spring and now sits second among all scorers in NCAA Division I.
Despite Thomas’ immense success, she would be the first to tell you it is not just her that has helped spark Tennessee’s offense the way it has. Mackenzie George has been a menace for defenses all year long, which earned her second team All-SEC honors in the fall. But, there is one more piece to the Volunteer offense that has helped jumpstart this team into an offensive juggernaut, and that is the addition of junior Abbey Burdette.
Burdette is from Monrovia, Maryland, where she spent her youth and high school years as a striker.
“When I first started playing soccer, I was the girl who used to play with the flowers during the game,” Burdette said. “But as I got older I began to like it more and more and got more competitive.”
In high school, Burdette was a standout at Urbana High School where she scored 57 goals and holds the record for career assists (41) and single season assists (16). As a junior, Burdette helped lead Urbana to a Maryland class 3a state championship.
“That was a really special team I was a part of. We were all really close knit, really competitive and we all had the same goal in mind,” Burdette said.
Although Urbana did not end up on top when Burdette was a senior, that did not stop her from having an outstanding senior campaign. As a senior, Burdette earned United Coaches All-American and All-Region honors in addition to being named 2017 Maryland Player of the Year.
“I remember my coach telling me, and I was just in complete awe,” Burdette said. “It was just such an honor to be able to represent my school and my state, and also be able to make my family and friends proud.”
But when it came time for Burdette to come to UT, she was a part of a star studded team that went to the elite eight, which forced her to find a spot as a defender on the team.
“When I first committed, coach Pensky and I had discussed positions and we weren’t really sure where I was going to play,” Burdette said.
After rehabbing an ACL injury at the end of her freshman year, Burdette came back as a sophomore and was a full time defender for the team.
“It was a completely different mindset. Forward had always been so natural for me so I definitely needed to flip a switch,” Burdette said.
Burdette was a more than capable defender and helped contribute to the defense's success all spring long, but the offense was still in need of a spark as they scored multiple goals just three times in nine games in the fall.
“Once we got back for the spring, coach Pensky approached me and said ‘we’re going old school’ and I didn’t know what he meant at first,” Burdette said.
But, what Burdette had just found out was that she was moving back to the top of the pitch to her natural position. This formed the attacking trio of Thomas, George and Burdette which has stimulated the offense to the tune of 18 goals in four games, opposed to 11 goals in nine games in the fall.
“Being up top with Jaida and Mackenzie, there is nothing to complain about there,” Burdette said. “I honestly didn’t realize how much I missed offense until I got back into the position because now I can sorta do my thing without thinking about it.”
Coach Pensky and Burdette immediately reaped the rewards of Burdette’s new found comfort as she netted a spectacular goal just two minutes into the opening match of the spring.
In addition to her on field success, the junior forward has also found success off the pitch. Burdette is a marketing major with a concentration in business analytics and has made the SEC academic honor roll all three years at UT.
Her prowess in the classroom helped land her a sales management internship with Pepsi Co. this summer.
Burdette and the Volunteers will be back in action Saturday night against No. 2 ranked North Carolina in the Volunteers final home game of the season at Regal Soccer Stadium.