KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- One day after playing Louisville to a 1-1 tie in exhibition action, Tennessee continues to gain a clearer picture of how the 2014 team will look for its season opener against Milwaukee on Aug. 22.
Returners like captain Allie Sirna and striker Hannah Wilkinson displayed the veteran savvy to be expected in their third under head coach Brian Pensky. Some newcomers showed they are ready to contribute right away while others might need a little more time to sharpen their games.
"I thought it was good," Pensky said on Thursday. "I think for probably 45 to 60 of those minutes we had a big core from last spring on. And in those moments, I thought we had the ball almost the whole time. We gave up some chances and some counter-attacks, but I thought our possession was good. Louisville sat in a bit and made it difficult for us to play through them, but I thought, after looking at the tape, we had the ball more than I felt we had it during the game."
Pensky was also pleased with his team's depth, which was showcased on Wednesday with several substitutions.
"The better thing that came out of yesterday was we played 22 field players in total," he said. "So it gave us a chance to really see these kids against a good opponent. We saw some kids yesterday who are ready to help us, and we saw some kids who are still a ways away from being able to step on the field and help us in big games."
LAUNCHING THE SEC NETWORK
Tennessee's soccer team, football team and volleyball team were all part of the SEC Network launch party on Thursday at Smokey's Grill - the new student-athlete dining facility in the Anderson Training Center.
Pensky spoke with ESPN The Magazine Senior Write Ryan McGee to discuss what the SEC Network means for UT and its soccer program.
"Whether it's on TV, the SEC Network or SEC Network +, it's our players getting the highest level of exposure and the highest quality," Pensky said. "They're going to do feature stories on our kids. We know we're not football and we're not basketball, but our kids work hard in the classroom and on the field. For them to be exposed on this level, it's a very exciting day for them as well."
ALL ABOUT CHEMISTRY
In the attack, UT graduated Caroline Brown, Tori Bailey, Katie Lenz and CC Cobb - a quartet that had two years of team chemistry with the Volunteers' returning offensive players. With the influx of so many new players this season (16), finding chemistry on the field will take time. It's a challenge that veteran Hannah Wilkinson is up for and the senior believes that the team is making great strides.
"I think the chemistry is good," Wilkinson said. "We've got some really, really good, strong attacking players here. I think some of the freshmen are showing a lot of good talent coming in there, and I've enjoyed playing up front with some of them. So, it's looking good."
"I think that after a few more trainings, I think it's just going to get better. We need to work on it and train more, but I think it's going to get there. So, it'll be good."
TEAM BUILDING STARTS IN THE SPRING
When seeing 16 new players on a roster, one might imagine an extremely inexperienced team on the field. However, thanks to four players enrolling in the spring (Anna McClung, Ashley Jolly, Amanda McClanahan, Ariel Kupritz) and a group of solid returners, Pensky says that this year's squad has more of a veteran feel to it than it might appear to have on the roster page.
"We started in January," Pensky said. "We had a good spring - we trained all spring, and much like football, springtime is the beginning of your fall season. We had a very successful spring playing some good teams, and having some good results with a core group of kids. So, we don't feel like we come in to this fall with the now 12 new faces starting one week ago, looking for five new starters."
IT'S NOT WHERE YOU START
Tennessee was recently ranked fifth the SEC Preseason Coaches Poll. Pensky says that rankings are the least of the team's concerns right now.
"We really don't put a lot of credence to it," he said. "In my two years here, the first two years I've been here, we've been ranked high in the league and finished very low and we've been ranked very low in the league and finished very high. So here we are right now, we're kind of somewhere in between. Right now, I think the biggest thing it tells us, is we're not going to sneak up on anybody."