Oct. 10, 2013
By Brian Canever
Of the 15 newcomers on the 2013 Tennessee soccer team, Megan Erskine has stood out as an impact player who is ready to make her mark on Rocky Top.
Erskine leads all newcomers with 1,003 minutes played this season and has started 12 of UT's 13 matches. Her presence on defense has been key for a unit that has limited opponents to 0.77 goals per contest.
The Tennessee junior plays with a tough, intimidating style on the field. But off the field, the Ventura, Calif., native is a colorful character - typically SoCal with freshly tanned skin and black streaks running through the back of her bright blonde hair - whose humbleness has made her fit in easily with her new teammates and coaches.
Erskine joined the team this past spring, taking advantage of the extra semester to get to know her teammates. Her road to Tennessee has been an interesting one, but after catching up with her at Wednesday's practice, it is clear that just about everything about her is linked to her love of soccer.
"It's my entire life," Erskine said. "I was lost when I wasn't playing the game. It's the only thing I know and have known forever. It's a big piece of me and I realized that when I stopped playing."
What Erksine refers to almost immediately is the year she spent away after playing at San Diego State and Ventura College. A standout player in high school who eventually played for the Los Angeles Strikers of the W-League, she spent her freshman season at San Diego State.
"When I first signed to San Diego State I was really young and I knew I wasn't ready to go, but I went anyway," she said. "Then, I got there and I didn't feel like I fit in as well. It didn't feel like home, and I felt like I needed to go home."
After 21 games and a Mountain West Conference All-Academic team honor in her first season with the Aztecs, she headed back home to Ventura. Conversations with former mentor Steve Hoffman, who was coaching at Ventura College and had trained Erskine in the CalSouth Olympic Development Program, helped coax her back into the sport.
Following a few standout performances for Ventura College and a chance encounter between Erskine's father Jeff and Tennessee assistant coach Joe Mallia, who was the head coach at Loyola Marymount from 2007-11, she was on a plane to East Tennessee to link up with the Lady Vols.
In her first season back in Division I college soccer, Erskine has proven to be a rock at the back, partnering well with Allie Sirna and combining an imposing physical presence with sleek passing and movement.
"I like to dribble and I feel like I'm strong in the air," Erskine said about her style of play. "I just have a presence back there. I know what works for me so I just try to play my game."
Erskine refuses to talk much more about herself. However, she does mention the unique opportunity to play for the LA Strikers for a second stint in 2012, when none other than Abby Wambach was present at one of her games. She does not mention her time in the United States U-20 national team pool.
Sirna, her defensive partner, attributes this to Erskine's noticeable humility.
"She will never talk about the stuff she's done," Sirna said. "She's also super kind and outgoing and is willing to do anything for anyone. On the field, we trust her as a soccer player, but she's obviously a really good friend, as well."
The two defenders were able to bond when Erskine toured campus as a recruit. Sirna, realizing how important it was build an early chemistry, became close with her and now the two live together with the other defenders on the team.
Head coach Brian Pensky recalls his first contact with Erskine.
"We had just won in overtime against William & Mary and Joe Mallia checked his phone and he had an e-mail from Megan wanting to transfer out here," Pensky said. "It just so happened the next week we were going to be in LA to play Cal State Northridge and UCLA, so we got to meet her."
Pensky goes on to describe the qualities that make Erskine such an important part of this Tennessee team.
"She's strong, she's fast, she's comfortable on the ball, and she'll only get better as she continues to get more games."
A period of fine-tuning has had to happen, with the coach adamant about playing a possession-based style of soccer. But, he feels that Erskine, as well as Sirna and goalkeeper Julie Eckel are adjusting.
"I think they're doing well with it," Pensky said. "You hope that with Megan, being out of Division 1 soccer for two years, just continues to get better and better with more time on the field, more video, and more coaching."
Pensky has big hopes for Erskine come next season, when she will conclude her collegiate soccer career.
"We want her flying come next August to where she is always wanting to play because she is getting into good spots early and the word fatigue never even enters her conversation," Pensky said.
For now, the imposing defender with a carefree nature and a keen eye for a pass will just continue to be herself and play her game. Who knows what the future holds for this Cali native at Rocky Top.