Tennessee's soccer team will hit the road for the first time this season on Thursday to take on Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee.
No. 17 Tennessee (2-0) is coming off a two-win first week of play. The Lady Vols beat Florida Gulf Coast 6-0 last Thursday and followed that up with a 2-0 win over Miami (Ohio) on Sunday.
Tennessee Tech (1-1) is also coming off a solid week of play. The Golden Eagles lost to No. 18 Vanderbilt 1-0 in overtime last Thursday and won a game over Liberty on Sunday, 1-0.
Although Tennessee Tech isn’t a Power Five school, head coach Brian Pensky still expects a fight out of the Golden Eagles.
The Lady Vols saw two different games last week — one where their opponent played up and aggressive in FGCU, and another where their opponent sat back and made the Lady Vols come to them in Miami. Tennessee struggled more against Miami, and Pensky expects to see a similar opponent in Tennessee Tech.
“Tennessee Tech just took Vanderbilt 107 minutes before Vanderbilt got a goal against them,” Pensky said. “They sat back and kept the game in front of them for large portions of it and made it really difficult.”
The Lady Vols have been scoring goals and getting shots off early this season, and senior defender Wrenne French sees how coming out strong leads to more success all game.
“We always talk about starting games fast, setting the tone right from the beginning,” French said. “I feel like in past seasons that’s something we haven’t always been consistent with, but so far this season we’ve done a really good job starting out fast. If we can come out with that high energy every single game, it’s going to be a really good non-conference season for us.”
One high point for Tennessee so far this season has been its freshmen and bench players. Of the Lady Vols eight goals this season, seven have been scored by either freshmen or players coming off the bench.
Pensky looks at Tennessee’s early, non-conference games as an opportunity to get his players experience and preparation for harder games down the road.
“A week from this Thursday we’re going to play at USF and they’re going to be very good,” Pensky said. “Two weeks from that we’re going to be in a jungle of Fayetteville, Arkansas, so this is fantastic preparation for that.”
Along with experience, non-conference games also prepare the team for a tough non-conference schedule coming later this season.
“Ultimately I think non-conference is preparing us for conference,” junior midfielder Brooke Wilson said. “Each game continuing to get better is going to continue to help us. If we have a night game and there’s high energy, how can we get that energy for the day game the next game and still improve that performance. I think that’s going to be important especially heading into conference.”
Conference play for Tennessee begins Sept. 17 against Arkansas.
Tennessee and Tennessee Tech will kick off Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. The Lady Vols will return home Sunday for a match against Louisiana at 1 p.m. ET.