After a historic season in 2021, Tennessee soccer is poised to have just as much – if not more – success this season.
The No. 11 Lady Vols kicked off the preseason with a 3-0 win over No. 16 Notre Dame in an exhibition match Tuesday. They'll face Dayton at home Saturday at 2 p.m. in another exhibition match before starting the season on the road at No. 10 North Carolina at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18. The tough nonconference slate doesn't stop after the season opener at Chapel Hill.
The following week, Tennessee will host No. 23 Southern Methodist University on Aug. 21 and No. 2 Duke on Aug. 25. Including UT, the SEC also has four teams ranked in the top 25: Arkansas (8), South Carolina (12) and Ole Miss (18).
Here's what you need to know before the season starts.
A talented freshman class
Before former coach Brian Pensky left for Florida State, he signed the No. 6 incoming freshman class in the nation.
Freshman forward Kameron Simmonds scored one of UT's three goals Tuesday, assisted by freshman midfielder Macaira Midgley, and all 10 freshmen saw the field.
Tennessee coach Joe Kirt said the freshmen have been "amazing" in adjusting to the team this summer. Fifth year senior midfielder Abbey Burdette said the freshmen were in for a surprise when they arrived – but not the reasons one would assume.
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"I think at first the freshmen are always shocked at how much fun we have," Burdette said. "That's kind of how we have our success is that balance between like the competitiveness and the fun that we have. So kind of getting them on that page, like, 'Hey, we want to have fun. That's how we're good.' It's definitely been a learning curve. But they're kind of getting into it."
Setting the standard
Last season, Tennessee recorded the first 20-win season in program history. The Lady Vols won the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2008 and advanced to the NCAA Round of 16 before falling to Michigan.
With 10 returning starters, the standard has been set and senior goalkeeper Lindsey Romig said they have their eyes on making more history this season.
"We are going to use that as a stepping stone, we don't want to go backwards at all," Romig said.
The team's driven, collective mindset is what excites Kirt most in his first season at the helm. The opportunity in front of his program is not lost on Kirt.
"They're passionate about winning, they're passionate about enjoying that journey," Kirt said. "They're a year older, they're a year better, they're a year more motivated – they felt upset about how their season ended. They have worked incredibly hard this summer to put themselves in a great place to go chase another championship."
Joe Kirt off to solid start
Players were excited from the jump about Kirt stepping into the head coaching role after being with the program for 15 years. Through the summer and first few weeks of fall camp, the players had high praises for Kirt.
"It's been really nice, honestly, getting to know him as a head coach is a lot different," junior forward Jaida Thomas said. "Just his intensity and ... he cares about everything we do and he wants us to be very intentional, and so it's been fun."
Kirt has given a lot of responsibility of running the team to his leadership group, which includes players like Burdette and Romig. Burdette said the freedom Kirt has given them on the field has allowed them to grow mentally and physically.
"Joe's the best," Romig said. "He's one of the main reasons I came to this school in the first place ... now having him as our head coach, I think that it's just put our team in a great spot and his leadership has really gone a long way."
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee soccer: What to know, preview before the 2022 season starts