The Lady Vols will open the season at home against No. 10 Vanderbilt on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.
Here are four things to know before the first home match of the year.
Home sweet home
Tennessee’s home opener will be the first home athletic event of the 2020-21 season. Roughly six months after the last home sporting event, the Lady Vols will open Regal Soccer Stadium with in-state rival Vanderbilt. Tennessee fared well in Knoxville last season, where they had an 8-2 record.
“Finally, the time has come for Vol fans to be able to support a team here on campus,” head coach Brian Pensky said. “It’s obviously Vanderbilt, and that has become an important game and an important rivalry.”
The Tennessee-Vanderbilt matchup has become a large event between the two schools. Tennessee features a young but promising roster, while the Commodores’ roster is deep with experience. The Lady Vols lost a 1-0 double overtime nail biter last season in Knoxville and are looking to notch their first victory of the season.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty cool atmosphere. And certainly, our kids are going to be excited to play in front the home crowd,” Pensky said. “And they’re going to be excited to play a game, because none of our kids are obviously pleased with last weekend’s performance.”
Tennessee opened its season with a 3-1 loss in Alabama last Saturday. The Lady Vols played a competitive first half and entered halftime down only 1-0. The Crimson Tide scored twice more within five minutes of the second half, while the Lady Vols could only muster one goal in the game from redshirt senior Erin Gilroy in the 75th minute.
Tennessee also lost new transfer Brooke Wilson to a knee injury in the 25th minute. The junior midfielder played in two NCAA tournaments for Arizona.
“I don’t think we were very good at defending crosses,” Pensky said. “I don’t think we were very good at defending in general the other day. We had moments where our soccer was alright, and our possession was alright. I think we were far too tentative, and we weren’t proactive enough in terms of doing the things that we wanted to do.”
“We missed some moments to advance the ball. Whether it’s changing the point or playing throughout midfield. I think it’s just a little bit of ants in the pants so to speak, and not really having the gumption in certain moments to do so. We’re challenging them to have the courage to be us.”
Scouting the Commodores
It will not be an easy matchup for the Lady Vols. The Commodores are a very good team coming off a comeback win their first time out. Vanderbilt trailed Kentucky 2-0 at halftime, then scored three unanswered goals in the second half to lift them to a 3-2 win.
The best scorer for the Commodores is senior forward Haley Hopkins. She led the team with 27 goals over the last two seasons and scored two more times in Vanderbilt’s win against Kentucky, including the game-winning goal.
“First and foremost, we need to find a way to contain her,” Pensky said. “Haley Hopkins is a very good soccer player, but she’s also one of the fastest players in this league. We’re going to need to manage Haley Hopkins in the run of play as well as on set pieces.”
As experienced as the Vanderbilt team is, their weakest spot is at goalkeeper. Redshirt freshmen Sophie Guilmette, who missed last season with an injury, allowed two goals in the first half before shutting Kentucky down in the second. The best opportunity for the Lady Vols is to score several times early before Guilmette gets comfortable in the box.
“They do have a new goalkeeper. She started her first game the other day,” Pensky said. “I think she showed some moments of uncertainty, which is very normal for a first-time starter. And I’m sure she’ll be better this week.”
USC Team Academic Award
For the third straight year, the Tennessee soccer program was honored by the United Soccer Coaches with the Team Academic Award Thursday afternoon, recognizing exemplary performance in the classroom during the 2019-20 academic year.
College Team Academic Award recipients are active members of the United Soccer Coaches College Services Program with a composite grade point average of 3.0 or better on a 4.0 scale for all players on the roster.
The Lady Vols were one of twelve SEC teams to receive the award. Their 3.67 GPA ranked fifth in the conference. Pensky believes the award is telling of the character of his team.
“A lot of those same skill sets and attributes transfer from the classroom on to the field and back into the classroom again. It makes us proud. It says something about the character of this group collectively as a whole. I think it’s a pretty high character group.”
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. ET and will be nationally televised on ESPNU.