The Tennessee soccer team will kick off its season on the road against Alabama on Saturday.
Here are four things to know before the first match of the year.
Finally playing again
After a seven-week preseason, the longest in the history of college soccer, the Lady Vols will finally play their first game Saturday against Alabama. This will be the first time in program history the Lady Vols have begun their season against a conference opponent.
Even with the extra five weeks of preseason, the soccer could look a little sloppy early in the season, as it is nearly impossible to simulate the timing and situations that arise in game.
One year ago, Tennessee had already played eight games, and was preparing for the first SEC matchup against Vanderbilt. This Sept. 19, the Lady Vols will play their first match of the year against an SEC opponent. It remains to be seen how this will impact the matchup against the Crimson Tide.
“Right now, eight or nine games into our season, this fall, we’ll be going into the SEC tournament,” head coach Brian Pensky said. “So, the soccer’s probably not going to be as pretty. But we’ve tried to do a good job of not pushing them and rolling them into some of those same expectations.”
Positions up for grabs
As the first game approaches, several positions do not have a clearly defined starter. An injury to sophomore Maria Nelson opened the left back position. Sophomore Bridie Herman and freshman Sydney Hennessey are two likely candidates for that job.
There is also competition for the two center back positions. Senior Wrenne French, junior Mackenzie Ostrom and redshirt freshman Giselle Washington were all names Pensky mentioned as possibilities for the center back position.
“I’d say a couple of those spots in the back,” Pensky said. “And then we’ve got a central mid-field role or two up for grabs.”
Pensky mentioned sophomore Isabella Cook, junior Hannah Tillett and sophomore Tara Katz as contenders for a midfielder role.
SEC Preseason watch list
Three Lady Vols were named to the SEC preseason Watch List Thursday. Redshirt senior Erin Gilroy, sophomore Lindsey Romig and junior Brooke Wilson represent Tennessee on a list that features the top players in the conference heading into the 2020 season.
Gilroy, the two-time All-SEC player, returns for her fifth season at Tennessee, after redshirting last season with a knee injury. Over the past three seasons, she totaled seven goals and 11 assists for the Lady Vols.
Romig is coming off one of the best seasons in program history, where she broke the single-season program record with a 0.58 goals-against average in 13 starts. She was also named SEC All-freshman for her efforts in 2019.
Wilson is set to begin her first year with the Lady Vols after transferring from the University of Arizona. Last season in Arizona, she accumulated six goals and four assists and ranked third on her team with 16 points. Wilson also brings postseason experience to a young Tennessee team; she played in back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in Arizona. These three Lady Vols will look to have a big impact in their season opener.
Scouting the Crimson Tide
Tennessee will be facing an Alabama team that historically plays well in season openers. Alabama has won six of its last 10 openers and has outscored its opponents 25-10 in those games.
The Crimson Tide have plenty of firepower of their own. Four Alabama players were named to the SEC Preseason Watch List, seniors Brynn Martin and Casey Wertz, junior Riley Mattingly and sophomore Reyna Reyes.
Martin is Alabama’s leading returning defender and Reyes earned All-SEC honors on defense in 2019. Wertz enters the year as the Tide’s top offensive option, leading the team last season in goals, assists and points. Mattingly is Alabama’s second leading returning points scorer.
The Crimson Tide finished third in the SEC west a year ago with a 4-4-2 conference record.
In their last matchups against Alabama, the Lady Vols lost 2-1 in double overtime.
Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on SEC Network.