Rhian Wilkinson has been a member of the CNT for 10 years
July 3, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - With the 2012 Olympics just weeks away, both former and soon-to-be Tennessee soccer stars are preparing for their journey onto the world's stage. This year, UT will have two soccer Olympians representing the Big Orange as Rhian Wilkinson, class of 2003, will represent Canada and 2012 signee Hannah Wilkinson will represent New Zealand.
Although more than 9,000 miles separate the unrelated Wilkinsons, at half a world apart, the two have met previously.
Last summer, long before Hannah Wilkinson of New Zealand inked her name on a National Letter of Intent to play at UT; both Wilkinsons met in their hotel during the World Cup. Hannah sought out the former Tennessee star and the connection was instant. As is customary in the futbol world, the two would trade jerseys as a sign of Hannah's respect for Rhian's game and at that time, neither player realized there was a possibility Hannah would become a Volunteer. Shortly following the encounter, Hannah would sign with the Big Orange making the bond between the two athletes that much stronger.
Now, as the two prepare for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, they will have the opportunity to meet again, this time on the pitch. As part of the Olympic build-up, Rhian and the Canadian National team will play Hannah and the New Zealand Football Ferns on July 14 in a pre-Olympic qualifier in Switzerland. With each passing year, the bond between both individuals only grows.
For former Lady Vol Rhian Wilkinson, the work ethic that is taking her to London came long before her Canadian tryout. It was built in Knoxville.
Simply put, "I arrived on campus out of shape," said Wilkinson. It was that hard work on those hot Knoxville afternoons that gave her the drive to keep going even when times seemed tough.
"When people now complain about fitness around me I have to laugh," Wilkinson said, "they don't fully understand what hard fitness really is."
Rhian also noted there were many aspects of Tennessee Soccer that appealed to her, and once she visited the campus and met the people, the Quebec native was sold.
"When I think back to my recruiting trip the first thing I remember are the people," said Wilkinson. "My teammates at Tennessee were amazing, and I still miss them! They welcomed me into the Volunteer family with open arms and I was blown away by the support and encouragement I received by everyone associated with the school, program, and the team."
In the same way, Hannah Wilkinson seems to have caught the Vol vision as she enters the 2012 season as part of Head Coach Brian Pensky's initial recruiting class on Rocky Top.
Without question, playing for your home country is a stressful endeavor, but Rhian Wilkinson knows the lessons she learned on The Hill are what helped her reach this opportunity.
"The stress levels of playing for your country are second to none and the speed and tempo of internationals are testament to that," said Rhian. "As an athlete you learn a great deal in your college career. A lot in regards to your particular sport but even more in terms of life.
"College helped me to grow up, to recognize how fortunate I was to be given these opportunities and how to work to make the most of the leg up in life I was being given."
It is safe to say that neither Wilkinson will waste her opportunity to represent their home or the University of Tennessee.
Be sure to watch the 2012 Olympic games and the women's soccer matches. Times and details on both Rhian and Hannah's matches will be provided throughout the Olympics.