Oct. 20, 2013
By Brian Canever
It is not typical for a freshman to walk straight into the starting lineup for a Division I soccer team. Acclimating to the increased speed, physicality and technical prowess required to play the college game is a big hurdle for freshmen looking to fight their way into the starting lineup.
That is what makes freshman Michele Christy's 12 starts in 15 games so impressive.
This season, the Ohio native has the honor of being the first player since Allie Sirna and Julie Eckel in 2011 to start more than 10 games as a freshman for Tennessee. A clever defensive midfielder, Christy possesses a smooth touch and a keen eye for a pass. More than midway into the season, it is easy to see why Brian Pensky thought she would prosper alongside his other veteran players.
In our interview on Wednesday, Christy was very modest about her quick transition from new recruit to starting midfielder.
"I think I was fortunate that I play in a position where there was an opening spot because of the graduating seniors," she said. "I think preseason is where coach really first noticed me. So from there I got put in and I just have to keep fighting to keep the spot."
Adjusting to the new level of soccer at UT has been trying at times for the Ursuline Academy graduate. Despite her experience in high school and club soccer in Cincinnati, playing in central midfield, where players are responsible for controlling the pace of the game and linking between defense and attack, is always a challenge in her eyes.
Standing at only 5-5 with a slender athletic frame, Christy is often matched against bigger opponents in the center midfield - a position where size and strength reign supreme. But, she knows that she also brings her own skills to the table.
"I think what makes me different is that I'm technical on the ball and like to switch the point of attack and open up the space for our offensive players," Christy said. "Defensively, I really like to pressure when I'm marking someone and not let them turn, and to win entry balls and regain possession for the team."
Christy's athleticism and vision have been helped by the fact that she played varsity basketball throughout her high school career, in addition to captaining of her soccer team and standing out on her club team, Cincinnati United Premier. Her greatest sporting achievement so far happened when playing for CUP, where she won the State Cup in 2012.
"My club team should have won before, but something always happened," she said. "Then, my senior year we won the State Cup with the odds against us because our goalkeeper got hurt going into the weekend and we had a field player in goal. But, we all came together and won it."
Christy says that she always loved watching United States veteran midfielder Shannon Boxx, a respected leader and role model in women's soccer. It makes sense considering the freshman's willingness to not only refine her game, but also help other new players that will come in after her.
"I don't think I'm ever going to be the one that scores all the goals or gets caught up in all the awards,' Christy said. "I just want to be a good leader and a good role model."
"Our upperclassmen are great," she said "Coming in, CC has really helped me transition. On the field, Tori and Allie really help me, and I really respect Julie Eckel a lot. They all do a great job talking, and not only leading by communication, but by example."
Christy is taking on big challenges in the classroom as well, balancing engineering classes with her soccer schedule. The sweet-natured Christy is still a teenager who enjoys having fun. She rounds out her busy school schedule by watching funny movies, listening to country music, and getting much needed rest whenever possible.
"I like to sleep a lot. When we travel, all I do is nap. It's kind of like a joke for everybody," she admitted with a smile on her face.
In just three months, Christy has established herself as an important contributor and a talented midfielder with a bright future. Along with team goals, Christy has a few more individual goals she would like to check off her list this year.
"This year I just want to score a goal," she laughed. "I think that would be neat."