Sept. 12, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – After months of globetrotting with the New Zealand national team and the Kiwis’ FIFA U-20 squad, Hannah Wilkinson is now donning the Orange and White for the Tennessee soccer team.
Wilkinson met with members of the local media for the first time after practice Wednesday afternoon. After arriving in Knoxville early last week and making her UT debut against Cal State Northridge on the team’s recent trip to California, the 20-year-old sophomore forward is set to make her Regal Soccer Stadium debut this Friday when No. 23 Tennessee opens SEC play against Alabama at 7 p.m.
“She’s been in big worlds, played in front of big crowds and has obviously played a very very high level,” Pensky said. “She’s going to be invaluable to our team and our program for both the older kids on our team and the younger kids. I think what we’re learning about Hannah as she becomes more acclimated within our team is incredibly experienced and she is a woman – she is tall, long, strong, fast.”
Like the other members of the New Zealand senior national team, Wilkinson sought to go overseas to continue playing soccer and also earn a college degree. She chose Tennessee first and foremost because of what she saw in Pensky as a coach.
“I came here because of Brian,” she said. “I just found Brian to be such a good coach. It was a good decision.”
In her two games with the Lady Vols so far, Wilkinson has played 105 minutes with two shots (one on goal). Her addition to UT’s forward rotation has enhanced the team’s already-formidable attack that includes 2011 All-SEC selection Caroline Brown, attacking midfielder and current leading scorer Amy Harrison, outside speedsters Iyana Moore and Alexis Owens and scrappy veterans Katie Lenz and Ashlee Burt.
“Everyone here is so friendly and they’re all making adjusting easy for me,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson continues to adapt to her new surroundings, classes and Pensky’s offensive schemes. She certainly has been a world traveler over the past several months, so she is still getting used to college life and living in a new country. This past summer, Wilkinson racked up some mileage on her passport, representing her home country of New Zealand in the 2012 London Olympics and the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan.
Wilkinson has donned her nation’s colors 10 times over the last three years, including three matches in the 2012 London Olympics. In the Olympics, she saw action in against Great Britain, Brazil and the U.S. and totaled 248 minutes of play with two shots and one shot on goal.
“It was probably the hardest you could get,” Wilkinson said of her competition in the Olympics. “We had Brazil and Great Britain to start and also the USA later on. It was the best in the world and right at the top there. It was pretty tough and it was a challenge, though I enjoyed it.”
She totaled 271 minutes played and three starts over three games in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and played an big role in New Zealand’s 2-2 tie with host nation Japan on Aug. 22, inducing an own goal by the Japanese to give her squad a 1-0 lead.
After Wilkinson’s long summer of elite competition, Pensky and the Tennessee coaching staff have been easing her into their system. She came off the bench in both the Cal State Northridge match and the UCLA match. Pensky and the coaches
“We just want to slowly bring her along and not expect the world from her,” Pensky said. “We’ve got a great group of kids on our team and they’re putting their arms around her and making her feel welcome. We’re just happy that she’s finally here.”
“Our expectations and hopes for her have to be very realistic. She’s a human being – we can’t be expecting ‘Hannah the machine’ even though she has had all of these experiences. She’s a sweet, sweet kid and a very family-oriented person.”