Oct. 2, 2013
By Brian Canever
You would be forgiven for missing Amy Neal when she steps onto the field. The freshman forward from Los Alamos, N.M., is so fast on the ball that you rarely catch a glimpse of her name or jersey number as she speeds by defenders on her way to goal.
After seeing major minutes off the bench through the first few matches, Neal received her first career start against Texas A&M on Sept. 20 and was a bundle of energy in the attack. On Sunday, she enjoyed a breakout performance, scoring two goals in the second half to spark Tennessee as it tried to rally back on the road against Alabama.
Neal's speed and directness provides another key layer of depth to an already very talented Tennessee team. If you did not know who Amy Neal is before Sunday's game at Alabama, you do now.
"I really like going fast," Neal said when describing her style of soccer. "I'm pretty quick with the ball when I'm running toward the goal. I like going out there as hard as I can and trying to amp the game up a little bit more."
That is not surprising for a player who excelled in both track and soccer in high school. Neal was the 2012 New Mexico state champion in the 200m and a two-time State 4A Player of the Year in soccer. She scored over 80 goals and tallied more than 60 assists, leading Los Alamos High School to district championships every year of her career.
When choosing colleges, Neal looked at her move away from home as a chance to prolong her promising soccer career. She had already been recruited by Colorado School of Mines, but felt that she needed more of a personal challenge.
"I wasn't really looking at Tennessee. I was looking at Maryland," said the forward, admitting that she was initially eager about the prospect of playing under head coach Brian Pensky, Maryland's head coach from 2005 to 2011. "But then he moved here and it was closer."
The familiarity with the coach did not make it any easier to adapt to the East Tennessee weather, though.
"At first, the humidity was rough," the New Mexico native said about her summer arrival. "When it first hit me I was like...ahh!" she added, letting out a charming yelp.
Neal is magnetic, smart, and the picture of humility. Despite having racked up the second most minutes of the freshmen, behind only Michele Christy, she is merely thankful for every opportunity she is granted.
"It's an honor," Neal said. "You have to take advantage of every chance because you never know if you're going to have it again."
She psyches herself up before stepping onto the field by focusing on what she has to do for the team to succeed.
"Take every moment for what it's worth," she always reminds herself. "Work hard, keep your head up, and do what you know how to do."
While she has dreams of a long career in soccer, Neal is a multidimensional character. Outside of the game, she is a civil engineering major and a community servant, as she showed through her work with Youth United Way back home.
"I loved it," said Neal. "At Youth United Way, we would hold dinners like Hamburger Night. We would rent out these restaurants and all dress up in costumes because it was on Halloween. And, we would serve hamburgers to all the people for half-price and milkshakes."
She is looking for something similar here in Knoxville and admits she's still figuring out how to get involved. Nevertheless, she has other plans for helping out during her ensuing college years.
"This next summer my sister and I are trying to get a bunch of people to go to either Brazil or Africa to play soccer with orphans and teach them," Neal said. "We are trying to get players from here and players from Colorado to join up and do that."
On the field, the lightning-quick Neal is more than willing to sacrifice for the team. Off it, the charismatic teenager shows exactly the same character.