When the Lady Volunteer soccer team takes the field Friday night against the University of North Carolina, the team will be taking on a program synonymous with success. The Tar Heels stand at No.1 in the nation, a familiar spot for a dynastic school.
Last season, the team picked up UNC's 18th national championship. During the 2003 College Cup, not a single goal was scored against them.
And junior star Lindsay Tarpley just got back from a quick trip to Athens, winning a gold medal with the national team.
The contrast between North Carolina and Tennessee seems huge.
UT just began its ninth season in collegiate soccer. Compared with the Tar Heels' rich legacy, the Lady Vols' history is still in infancy.
But what Tennessee may lack in history, it is quickly gaining in national respect.
Three seasons ago, North Carolina traveled to Knoxville to take on an up-and-coming Tennessee team. UNC came into the game unbeaten and unscored upon.
That game marked a dynasty versus a baby.
But people showed up to watch UT test itself. A record crowd of 3,042 people crammed into the Tennessee Soccer Complex, filling up first the bleachers, then the standing room and then the grass on the opposite side of the field.
That crowd watched a dynamic freshmen class challenge North Carolina, scoring two goals against the dominant Tar Heels before losing, 5-2.
Between that 2001 game and now, Carolina claimed only last year's national championship. For a program accustomed to success, the period must have seemed like an extended dry spell.
But for Tennessee, the time between then and now seems like an eternity. The rookie class that paced the field that day is now a group of seasoned veterans.
In their four years at UT, the seniors have marched their way into history.
As freshmen, they saw the team into its first NCAA tournament bid. As sophomores, they led the way as Tennessee knocked off conference power Florida to win the program's first SEC tournament title.
As juniors, they topped themselves - winning both the regular season and postseason titles and moving into the third round of the NCAA tournament before being eliminated.
What was then a program on the rise is now a program established among the nation's best college teams.
There is much to be said for North Carolina's immense talent and seasoned coaching staff.
But there is also much to be said for a Tennessee talent base that continues to get better year after year. And that talent is brought in by a dynamic, if young, coaching staff.
Lady Vol coach Angela Kelly, herself a protege of legendary UNC head coach Anson Dorrance, searches the nation and even reaches across into Canada for some of the best talent that each recruiting class has to offer.
As other schools continue to grasp highly-talented recruits, eventually women's collegiate soccer might attain a larger level of parity. For now, many highly touted players continue to flock to Carolina, not for promises of playing time - but rather, for continued excellence.
But North Carolina missed out on one player - the nation's best defender belongs to Tennessee.
Keeley Dowling is a part of that history-making senior class.
Her skills have graced the field at UT for the last four years - time after time, seemingly coming out of nowhere to stop what seemed like an inevitable goal. Or perhaps to knock in a goal with a header that simply floats into the net.
She's helped establish Tennessee in the nation's view.
And Friday night, she and her teammates will see just how far they've come. Here's hoping another record crowd shows up to watch what they are now and what they could become.
- Angela Williams is a senior in journalism at The University of Tennessee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lady Vol seniors ready to challenge UNCs dynasty
Published: Thu Sep 09, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:20 p.m.