Lady Vols soccer coach Angela Kelly
Aug. 21, 2009
The ability of University of Tennessee Lady Vol soccer head coach Angela Kelly and her staff to instill the will to win, communicate the program's philosophies and successfully rally the squad during any hardship have long helped make the UT program successful both league and nationwide. Entering the 2009 campaign, Kelly and company are ready to prove again that whatever the record, whoever they've lost from the roster, it's always wise to "Take Note of Tennessee." Under Kelly's tutelage, the Tennessee soccer program's accolades speak for themselves: eight All-Americans, three Southeastern Conference regular season titles, four SEC Tournament championships, five NCAA Sweet 16 berths and eight straight NCAA Tournament appearances. You can add toughness, mental fortitude and the ability to handle adversity to that list after last year. During a 2008 campaign that saw UT struggle with injury and youth during a tougher than usual regular season (by Lady Vol standards), the Big Orange took stock of its situation entering the postseason, rallied together and rolled to a SEC Tournament title and another berth into the NCAA Field of 64.
Taking Note of Tennessee in 2009
Entering her 10th season at the helm of the Big Orange program, Kelly welcomes back 15 returning letter-winners and seven starters from last season's SEC Tournament champion and NCAA entry, while adding eight lauded newcomers. Joined by third-year assistant coach Joe Kirt and second-year assistant and former Lady Vol All-American Keeley Dowling, the experienced staff will be looking to continue the momentum from last season's strong finish into a rugged 2009 campaign.
Despite losing five seniors, including the program's all-time leading scorer in All-American forward Kylee Rossi and an uber- experienced All-American goalkeeper in Jaimel Johnson, Kelly returns seven starters to bolster the squad that each saw at least 20 matches worth of action in 2008. Included among the returnees are 2009 Preseason All-SEC forward Mick Imgram, experienced juniors in midfielder/forward Julie Edwards and midfielder Tanya Emerson and 2008 Soccer Buzz All-Central Region
Freshman and All-SEC Freshman Team midfielder Chelsea Hatcher. That quartet has been looked to as leaders in helping to assimilate the eight rookies into the UT system of play.
"We're very excited about how far the team has come in a short period of time," Kelly said. "The team is jelling well, both on and off the field, and that can only lead to great things this fall. It's always such an exciting time heading into the season opener. I think our freshman class as a whole enters this year with a great opportunity to contribute and have a very strong and immediate impact on our program. Many of our players appear to possess the characteristics and qualities that will help us be a very dynamic team in 2009."
The Coaching Staff
As a third-year goalkeeper coach, Joe Kirt has a significant challenge ahead of him following the departure of his pupil Johnson and her 60 career starts from last year's squad. He should be up to the task. Kirt proved a valuable teacher and mentor for the All-American during her final two seasons in net, as his charge posted a 1.24 GAA during her senior year, with five shutouts and a sterling 0.87 Goals-Against-Average (GAA) at home in Regal Soccer Stadium.
Keeley Dowling adds a special dimension to the Lady Vol program as the only member of the staff to have played collegiately at Tennessee, by having participated in the prestigious U.S. National Team program and as a current professional player in Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) with the FC SkyBlue. A three-time National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-American and two-time Southeastern Conference (SEC) Defensive Player of the Year, Dowling patrolled the backline for the Big Orange from 2001-04. In her final two seasons with the Lady Vols she was a semifinalist for the Missouri Athletic Club (M.A.C.) Hermann Trophy, awarded to the top collegiate soccer player in the nation each year. Dowling understands the UT program, the towering yearly expectations at Rocky Top and has the knowledge to help her players grasp what it takes to succeed post-collegiately in the sport.
"The coaching staff we've assembled here at Tennessee is second to none," Kelly said. "Joe has done a tremendous job as the goalkeeper coach, but has contributed in all facets of the job over the past year and a half. He has stepped up big since he's been at Tennessee, he possesses an incredible work ethic and is thoroughly enjoyable to work with on a daily basis. With Keeley, it's impossible to replace the loyalty a coach experiences when one of their assistants is coaching at their alma mater. That intangible is unique to Keeley and something that Joe and I are unable to bring to this program. As a former UT player, Keeley was outstanding, and now she adds a different dimension to our staff as a current pro player and participation with the U.S. National team. I'm very proud of her continued successes on the field, and I am excited to get her back to campus so that she can share all of her knew found professional playing/coaching experience with our team and coaching staff."
For the first time in four years, Tennessee will be venturing into battle with a new starter between the pipes, as junior Molly Baird finally gets her opportunity to demonstrate her vast potential. A native of Raleigh, N.C., Baird has seen time in just two matches during her career at Rocky Top but arrived at UT in 2006 with a sterling high school and club resume in tow. That history included a 93-3-6 overall record at Needham Broughton H.S. and a staggering 77 shutouts over four seasons.
Kitchin has long been a reliable back-up for the Lady Vol program since being forced to step into the starting role during her redshirt freshman campaign in 2006 following injuries to both Johnson and Baird. Having made eight starts and 11 appearances in goal for the Big Orange previously with a 1.04 career GAA provides a measure of security for Kelly and her staff at the position heading into the season.
Rolfs was a four-year soccer letterwinner at Normal Community High School in Normal, Ill. A two-year captain with the Ironmen, Rolfs helped lead her squad to the 2007 intercity and regional titles while being chosen as a three-time first-team All-Big 12 Conference selection and two-time all-section team member. She posted a combined 29 shutouts over the past two seasons, notching a 36-8-0 record during that span.
A native of Aiken, S.C., Wyatt ventures to Tennessee having played four years of soccer and two seasons of basketball at South Aiken H.S. A nominee for South Carolina Gatorade State Player of the Year for soccer in 2009, she was chosen in both 2008 & 2009 as an Augusta Chronicle All-Area selection. After reaping a second team nod in `08, she nabbed a first team selection as a goalkeeper after posting eight shutouts and a 0.76 GAA during her senior campaign. In 2008, Wyatt was also tabbed as a Top Three 4-A keeper in South Carolina and shared duties in setting a school record for single-season shutouts.
While not long on experience, the UT goalkeeping quartet boasts a great deal of potential. With Kirt's guidance from the coaching position, the Lady Vols should again benefit from solid netminding in 2009.
The Defensive Backline
The defense should be one of the strengths of the Lady Vol program venturing into 2009, as senior Sarah Jackyra and junior Melissa Speros return to anchor the backline as regular returning starters. In combination with sophomore Hannah Hut, who received nine starts in 2008 and saw time in 20 matches overall, the trio will be looking to solidify their roles on defense while helping to shape the new players coming onto the backline.
For Jackyra and Speros, last year marked the second consecutive season they spent as starters with Tennessee's defense. Alongside Hut, they helped the Lady Vols to five shutouts and were particularly stingy as a group at Regal Soccer Stadium, as the opposition managed just eight goals in nine total matches.
"Our backline will be very solid this season," Kelly said. "Upperclassmen Melissa Speros and Sarah Jackyra return, bringing a ton of experience to the position. Hannah Hut has continued to develop and the maturity that we have seen in her game and as an individual has been exceptional. She has worked so hard in the offseason, and as she continues to learn, she will be a tremendous asset for our team."
Hall was a four-year letterwinner at Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill. In 2008, the NSCAA/adidas All-American ('07) led the Patriots to a section title while earning all-conference, all-area, all-state and all-section honors. She played club soccer with Eclipse Select, helping guide her squad to a national championship (2005), two appearances in the national finals and two U.S. Youth Soccer Region II titles.
A three-time all-league selection out of Yorba Linda, Calif., Bono led the Esperanza H.S. Aztecs to a pair of Sunset League titles, earning the league's offensive MVP award from 2007-09. In 2008-09, the 5-8 midfielder/defender led her squad in goals and assists, guiding it to the quarterfinals of the California Interscholastic League (CIF) Southern Section Championships.
"Kylie Bono can play in the midfield or anywhere in the back," Kelly said. "She possesses good pace and a solid ability to distribute the ball. Ali Hall has the ability to shut down players in a one vs. one environment, has a gritty mentality and a great presence in the air. There have been a ton of bright spots in this year's freshman class. They all have come to campus committed to making a significant contribution to the Lady Vol Soccer program. They want accountability and they want their teammates to depend on them. What more can you ask from your freshman class."
Returning in a relatively deep Tennessee midfield for 2009 are juniors Tanya Emerson and Julie Edwards as well as lauded sophomore Chelsea Hatcher. Each of the three drew 10 or more starts with the trio combining for three goals and four assists for the Lady Vol offense.
Emerson has seen time in 44 matches during her UT career with five goals and five assists for 15 points. During the 2008 campaign, the Capistrano Beach, Calif., native was responsible for a goal and two assists on 11 total shots. Having started 19 matches for the Big Orange in 2008, Edwards posted a pair of goals, an assist and five points to rate fifth on the squad in scoring. Both of her goals were game-winners as her crucial tallies downed #15-ranked Illinois (1-0) during the First Tennessee Lady Vol Classic and Georgia (1-0) in the SEC Tournament title game. Hatcher looks to build upon a rookie campaign in `08 that saw her earn Soccer Buzz Central Region All-Freshman, SEC All-Freshman and SEC All-Tournament selections while appearing in 21 matches with 10 starting nods. Among her season highlights were nailing the deciding penalty kick during a shootout with #11-ranked LSU in the SEC Tourney semifinals to help UT on their run to a fourth all-time event title. Cuenin (one goal, one assist in 17 starts in 2008), Shore (19 matches played in '08) and sophomore Lara Langworthy (16 matches last year) are expected be among those providing depth in the midfield for the Big Orange.
Also expected to contribute in the middle third of the field are rookies Bono, Mackenzie Higgins and Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, native Amy Harrison. A member of the Canadian Under-17 Women's World Cup squad, Harrison traveled with Team Canada to the 2008 FIFA U17 World Cup in New Zealand, starting two contests and seeing time in each of the squad's four matches before it was bounced out in the quarterfinals by Germany. She possesses nine career caps for Canada in international competition. As a five-year captain with Winnipeg South End United, Harrison helped her club squad to the 2008 Manitoba Championship and three straight city and league championships between 2005 and 2007. In 2006, she took home both the Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association and South End United Player of the Year Awards. Higgins, a letterwinner in soccer (three years), basketball and track (one year each) at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, Ind., received a pair of selections to the Indianapolis High School Soccer Association All-State Academic Team in 2007 & 2008. She played club soccer for Dynamo FC out of Indianapolis from 2007-09, earning team semifinal berths at a tourney in Germantown, Tenn., in 2009, and in the state tourney in `08.
"The central midfielders are in essence the point guard of a soccer team," Kelly said. "They control the tempo of the game and need to attain the technical abilities to play the forwards in behind the back-line. They are expected to have a very deep fitness base and a blue collar working mentality with no apprehension to the physical commitment of the game. We are fortunate to have a significant portion of our roster that can play any of the front six or seven positions and that makes coaching this '09 Lady Vol squad very exciting."
Losing a forward like Kylee Rossi who scored an SEC-leading 13 goals last season, completed her career as Tennessee's all-time leading scorer and led the Big Orange in scoring all four years of her career is a significant blow. The Big Orange offense will respond, however, as several promising players prepare to move into the forward role looking to tickle the twine in 2009.
The most experienced player at the position is moving up top full-time after spending most of her career helping stabilize the midfield. Senior Mick Imgram enters 2009 as UT's top returning scorer from last season and as a 2009 Preseason All-SEC selection. The Clifton, Va., native boasts 13 career goals and is currently deadlocked for seventh on the Lady Vol career charts for assists with 17. Imgram made 18 starts in 21 matches last year and owns six career game-winning goals. Among those was a crucial second half tally in Orange Beach, Ala., last November to down Auburn, 2-1, and help ignite Tennessee to its fourth SEC Tournament championship.
Junior Anna Fisher and sophomore Emily Dowd will be expected to provide crucial depth at the position as each have tallied a goal and an assist in 33 and 21 career matches for the Lady Vols, respectively. Also expected to potentially see some time up front are Edwards, Langworthy and sophomore Ashley Owens. Emily Dowd has committed herself to the game and her development in the off-season. Emily is now seeing the benefit of hard work and why the pursuit of excellence is a year-long commitment. She will be very exciting to watch this season.
A two-time California State Cup MVP hailing from Corona, Calif., Barrett helped her club team, the Slammers, to four Surf Cup Championships, two Cal South National Cup championships, two Cal South State Cup finals appearances, the 2008 Region IV title and a runner-up finish at the 2008 U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships. She was also part of the Nike Manchester Cup, Gothia Cup and Jefferson Cup titlists, while also serving as a member of the Region IV ODP pool from 2005-07, claiming the Region IV title in each of those years. Barrett traveled to England in 2007 to train with both Arsenal and Chelsea Ladies Academies, was a member of the U.S. Under-15 National Team pool in 2005 and 2006, and was named one of the top 25 youth players in the nation at the adidas Elite Soccer Program in 2007. A two-time letter-winner in both soccer and track at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., Barrett helped the Monarchs to back-to-back Serra League championships (2006, 2007) and the 2007 California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division I title with a 24-3-4 record. "Jayden is so incredibly talented and has the competitive desire to be the best," Kelly said. "For those reasons alone, if she continues to learn the game and pursues responsibility in the attacking third, she will be big-time."
Owens played a part in three straight conference championship teams (2006-08), one regional (2007) and one sectional titlist (2007) at Carmel High School in Carmel, Ind. A three-time All-Hamilton County soccer selection (2007-09), she also made a name for herself as a speedster on the track as a two-time state finalist in the 400 meters.
"We recruit players that have a ton of versatility, which allows us a great deal of flexibility within our system of play." Kelly said. "In our system, the front 6 or 7 players all must possess individual personalities on the ball and have to be creative and willing to run at players. This creates a very fast tempo and speed of play that makes it difficult for the opposing team to defend. They defensive commitment from the team as a whole is tremendous, which allows us to win the ball back quickly in transition and continue to be on the attack.
Each season, the Tennessee coaching staff works diligently to create a schedule that will provide a challenging learning experience for the Lady Vol squad. This season will be no different as the Orange & White will face off against nine teams that played in the NCAA Tournament during the 2008 campaign.
"The Tennessee philosophy each and every year is to become the best that we can be," Kelly said. "If we are to do this on the field, we must play the best out-of-conference, out-of-region competition possible. The upcoming season is no different." UT will kick off Kelly's 10th season at the helm with an exhibition against 2008 NCAA quarterfinalist Duke before beginning the official campaign on Aug. 22. Tennessee will play host to ETSU in Knoxville for the opener, marking the teams' first meeting since 1998.
The Orange and White will then welcome Kansas, Pepperdine and Arizona State for the annual First Tennessee Lady Vol Classic at Regal Soccer Stadium on Aug. 28 and 30. The Jayhawks and Waves will open the weekend before the UT season opener against the Sun Devils on Friday night at 8 p.m. ET. ASU will face KU in Sunday's early game, followed by a meeting between Pepperdine and Tennessee for the second straight year. The Lady Vols will be looking to avenge last season's 2-0 loss to the Waves in Malibu, Calif.
Tennessee's first road trip of the fall slate will take it to Minneapolis, Minn., where the defending Big 10 regular season champion Golden Gophers await for a Friday night contest on Sept. 4. The two squads last faced off in Knoxville on Sept. 2, 2007, as the Orange and White claimed the 1-0 win. Minnesota is coming off an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance and 22-win season in 2008. The Lady Vols will cap the trip to Minneapolis with a match against Wisconsin on Sept. 6, marking the first encounter between the teams.
"I have a ton of respect for both Minnesota and Wisconsin, for the mentality that each coach implements and their unique styles of play. I do understand that we will be playing in an extremely difficult environment." Kelly said.
Returning home on Sept. 11, Tennessee will meet in-state foe Memphis, another 2008 NCAA Tournament team and the back-to-back Conference USA Tournament champions, for just the third time in program history. The Big Orange will play host to Western Carolina on Sept. 13 to close out the final home-stand of the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Catamounts fell to UT, 3-0, in Knoxville last season but went on to win the Southern Conference Tournament and make their second NCAA Tournament appearance.
UT will wrap up the out-of-league slate against a familiar opponent in West Virginia. The Lady Vols travel to Morgantown on Sept. 20 to meet the Mountaineers for the third time in the last seven years. Tennessee will be looking for its first ever win over WVU after falling, 1-0, to the Mountaineers in last year's First Tennessee Classic.
"Both Pepperdine and West Virginia will be very talented and have proven to be difficult opponents for us in the past," Kelly said. "Memphis, Western Carolina and ETSU, all serve as tough regional matches leading us into our conference play."
The 2009 Southeastern Conference schedule will kick off on Sept. 25, when the Lady Vols travel to Arkansas, followed by a Sunday match at LSU. Tennessee will be looking to improve on its last trip to Fayetteville and Baton Rouge in 2007, which ended with a 3-0 loss to the Tigers and a 1-1 draw with the Razorbacks.
The Orange and White's season-long five-game road swing will end with trips to Vanderbilt and Kentucky on Oct. 2 and 4, respectively. The Lady Vols will be out to avenge a 1-0 home loss to the Commodores in 2008, while the Wildcats will be looking for their first win over UT since the 2006 SEC Tournament.
On Oct. 9, Tennessee begins its longest homestand of the season, kicking things off against Mississippi State, followed by a meeting with Ole Miss on Oct. 11 that is set to be broadcast on ESPNU. The following weekend, the Lady Vols welcome 2008 SEC regular season champ Florida and South Carolina to town. The Gators snapped a three-game losing streak to UT last year, while the Gamecocks have posted two straight victories over the Orange and White.
Senior Day for Tennessee occurs on Oct. 22, as UT welcomes Auburn to Regal Stadium for a 7 p.m. tilt. After falling to the Tigers in double overtime during the 2008 regular season, UT bounced back 10 days later to knock Auburn out of the SEC Tournament in the first round.
With its home season behind it, the Big Orange will hit the road to face Alabama on Oct. 25 before heading to Georgia on Oct. 30. The regular season finale will serve as the first rematch of the 2008 SEC Tournament Championship game, which saw the Lady Vols top the Bulldogs, 1-0, after falling to UGA on Senior Day at Regal Stadium. The 2009 SEC Tournament is slated for Nov. 4-8 at the Orange Beach Soccer Complex in Orange Beach, Ala. Tennessee will be looking to defend its fourth conference tournament crown and make its ninth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Entering its 14th season of soccer, Tennessee will be looking to reload its program from a solid group of experienced returnees bolstered by an outstanding group of promising freshmen. With a storied history of success, with the coaching staff having demonstrated the ability to quickly acclimate new players into their system and in obvious possession of the fortitude to respond to whatever adversity comes along after last season's rally, the SEC and nation would be wise to "Take Note of Tennessee."