May 1, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Everyone knows that spring is a time of renewal, and without a doubt spring soccer is just that. Players return to the pitch for the first time since the conclusion of their fall season, coaches are able to work with their players once more, and life is rejuvenated looking forward to the summer months.
Offseason spring soccer is a time when most teams say farewell to graduating teammates and begin forming a new identity under the direction of new senior leadership. In the same manner the season's change, this process plays out too, in soccer.
For the Lady Volunteer soccer program, spring was without question a time of change. Highlighting the offseason, Lady Vol soccer would find itself under new management with the hire of Brian Pensky from the University of Maryland. With the addition of Pensky, the Lady Vols gained a coach with experience at the highest levels of intercollegiate soccer and his presences on the field was instantly felt.
Rising senior Amy Harrison noted back in March the impact coach Pensky was having on the squad.
"Coach is not coming in and changing our whole system immediately," said Harrison. "He is willing to learn about us and show us how he coaches. The whole process has been really great."
With such a smooth transition, it is no wonder as to how the Lady Vols had such a strong spring. Even with roster depth at a lower-than-usual mark, Pensky was able to get the most out of his team.
The Lady Vols would open their spring campaign on February 26, 2012 against Western Carolina at Regal Stadium with a 0-0 tie.
Even with the tie, coach Pensky and his staff could see the potential running around in orange.
"I was really pleased," Pensky said. "We wanted to get a goal, we wanted to get a win, but that is ok. The spring is a time for learning and developing and just getting better... We left as a coaching staff feeling very happy about our group."
Next on the schedule would be Big East foe, Cincinnati. Following the team's tie with Western Carolina, it would be imperative that the Lady Vols find rhythm and more importantly, the back of the net. Rising senior Alexis Owens and rising sophomore Iyana Moore would provide the forward power that would lead the Big Orange over the Bearcats, 2-0.
Possession would be the name of the game as the Lady Vols took control of the ball early and often over the course of the spring.
In the squad's third contest of the spring season against Lipscomb University, the Lady Vols entered halftime with a 1-0 lead, but with the sense that more could be done.
The second half would be a different story, three more goals would find their way past the Lipscomb keeper.
Rising senior Ali Hall, who finished the game with two goals, credited the team's overall game-plan as the tool that aided the Lady Vols in finding the back of the net.
"We have been trying to keep the ball and stay in a quick rhythm playing fast," said Hall. "We want the other team to chase us because that is what gets them tired. From there we just want to go to the net. That is why we were able to score tonight."
The next spring hurtle would be the Tennessee Collegiate Classic, where the Lady Vols would face instate rivals Tennessee Tech and MTSU.
Multiple members of the squad would get in on the scoring action as Amy Harrison, Caroline Brown, Iyana Moore, Emily Dowd, and Alexis Owens all contributed to the Big Orange onslaught over Tech and MTSU. The Lady Vols would finish the Classic going 2-0 and outscoring both Tech and MTSU by a combined total of 9-0.
The team's greatest challenge of the spring would come in its closing match against ACC opponent Wake Forest on Saturday, April 21.
Wake Forest, who made it to the final four of the Collegiate Cup this past season, looked poised to make a statement in its spring conclusion against the Lady Vols. The squad from Knoxville, however, had different plans.
Throughout the first ten minutes of the match, both teams peppered opposing goalkeepers looking for the go-ahead goal. Rising senior forward Alexis Owens would connect ball to net on a breakaway shot that beat the keeper near post giving the Lady Vols the lead. Wake Forest would not be outdone as they answered quickly off a corner kick, tying the match at 1-1.
The Lady Vols would need to find an answer and in the same way she had done all spring, Owens finished for the second time handing the lead back over to Tennessee. For the remainder of the match, both teams would continue to throw their best shots at the opposing keepers. Wake Forest continued to spread the field playing to outside help, while the Lady Vols cleaned up loose balls around the box and sent them forward to Iyana Moore and Alexis Owens.
In the closing minutes of the match, Wake Forest would capitalize off another set piece finishing a corner kick and tying the game at 2-2. The match may have ended in a tie, but there is no question that the Lady Vols established themselves as a serious threat to a team that had made the Collegiate Cup the year before.
In all, this spring has been a very productive one. Head Coach Brian Pensky had this to say about his time with the team this spring.
"This spring could not have gone any better in my opinion," Pensky said. "We all had a full three months where we got to know each other, both on and off the field. There were terrific strides made on the field, which wasn't difficult for our group. As I've said all along, we have very good players here. So it's just been a matter of them getting used to what the coaches want to see from them. Our possession got better, our combination play got better, and our team defending got better. I think we all leave for the summer feeling as though we have a foundation in place, heading into August."
What marks a great team is how sturdy that foundation stands throughout a season, and if this spring is any indication of the season to come, then the future of Lady Vol soccer looks bright.