Sept. 25, 2009
BY CHRIS WHITE
Lady Vols goalkeeper Molly Baird finally has her chance to shine.
After picking Tennessee over other highly touted programs such as UConn, Texas A&M, and LSU, she waited three years behind All-American goalkeeper Jaimel Johnson.
Working as Johnson's back up was more than adequate preparation for Baird this season. When asked how she felt about being the starter, the Raleigh, N.C., native responded simply.
"It's awesome," Baird said. "I got the privilege of watching and learning from her for the last three years. I just tried to soak up as much information as I could. I've used the last three years to prepare myself for that."
As one might expect, there is a great deal of pressure following in the footsteps of an All-American, but Baird doesn't seem fazed by the expectations.
"There's always pressure as a goalkeeper. They say you have to be a little crazy to be one. The ball is flying at my head, but I'm okay with that. I like the thrill of it," Baird said. "We've always had excellence at goalkeeping."
Baird has continued that trend of excellence into this season for the Lady Vols.
At one point this season, she had not allowed a goal in more than 264 minutes of game play. Baird was also named SEC Player of the Week, joining forward Mick Imgram as the only other Lady Vol to earn that honor so far this season.
Since arriving as a freshman, Baird has been under the tutelage of assistant coach Joe Kirt, who works primarily with goalkeepers.
"I think Molly has matured a lot in her time here," Kirt said. "She was very mature to begin with, very intelligent, and I think she's found a way not to be too cerebral when she plays. She does a good job of making decisions instinctually, without thinking."
Head coach Angela Kelly echoed that sentiment.
"Ninety-five percent of the population is average or mediocre and we want the five percent that are going to pursue excellence," Kelly said. "(Molly) is a very driven, type-A personality, and she's going to be very successful in any endeavor that she chooses in her life. She's very intelligent. I think she came in with an added sense of maturity than you would see in a typical freshman."
Baird describes herself as an "intense person," and that intensity is not limited to the field.
"We demand excellence here at Tennessee and whether we're on the field or in the classroom or in the weight room, no matter who you're talking to in the administration, you have to be excellent, you have to pursue excellence," she says.
Achieving that excellence is not easy.
Student athletes make sacrifices in their personal lives and work on days and at times when everyone else is relaxing. By 10 a.m., when some students are just starting the day, Baird has already been to two classes and hit the weight room.
"We're not your typical college students," Baird said. "It's hard to have a social life if you're gone from Thursday to Sunday almost every weekend in the fall. And when you are home, you're having practice."
In spite of their commitments, Baird and her teammates still manage to enjoy themselves.
"I hang out with my team a lot," she says. "We still have a great time; it's just not like your typical college life."
As well as striving for excellence, Baird's faith plays an important role in her life as a person and as an athlete.
A member of Athletes in Action, a ministry for student athletes, Baird went to a camp this summer that instructed her on ways to apply Christian principles to her on-field play as well as her life.
"I am a Christian. Every time I go out to play, I try to play for an audience of one, which is Him," she said.
As the Lady Vols head into the SEC schedule, Baird says that the team is refocusing and preparing for what lies ahead.
"We start the conference this week, and we want to come out and win a triple crown (winning the SEC Eastern division, the SEC championship, and the SEC Tournament championship)," Baird said. "We're here to win. It's Tennessee."