Students at the University of Tennessee come from far and wide, across cities and states throughout the country. But, for two players on the Lady Vols' soccer team, out-of-state does not begin to explain the distance they have traveled.
Forwards Hannah Wilkinson and Amalie Thestrup are two of the shining stars on head coach Brian Pensky's vibrant Lady Vols roster.
The 21-year-old Wilkinson, a junior forward from New Zealand, is one of the most accomplished soccer players that has played at UT's Regal Soccer Stadium. On the international stage, she has amassed over 20 appearances, including appearances in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup and 2012 London Olympics.
After leading the Lady Vols in scoring during her debut season in 2012, Wilkinson has already been a crucial part of this season's success, racking up five goals and three assists in six starts.
Towering over most defenders at 5-foot-11, Wilkinson is the ideal center forward, possessing the kind of power and speed that make her an opponent's worst nightmare.
Thestrup, on the other hand, was a budding creative force with the Denmark under-19 women's team, a squad she helped lead to this past summer's U-19 European championship after scoring three times in the preceding qualifiers.
Still only 18 years old, the freshman’s strength is her versatility as she can play a number of positions in midfield and along the forward line. Without the height and speed of her Kiwi teammate, the Dane relies on her crafty footwork and a resolve typical of a Pensky-coached player.
Despite their different tongues, styles and ages, “the foreigners" – as Thestrup said she and Wilkinson have been dubbed by their teammates – have quickly formed a friendship and partnership on the team.
“A great team off the field makes a great team on the field,” Thestrup said, referring to the way they are settling as fellow internationals in Knoxville.
Even though Thestrup is still far from becoming a consistent starter for the Lady Vols, she is willing to do whatever it takes to prove herself.
“I knew from the moment that I came to the University of Tennessee that this is where I wanted to be,” Thestrup said. “Wherever I can help out on the field I will do my very best every single time. I’ll play any position that will help the team.”
The duo is grounded, exuding humility despite their accomplishments on the international stage. Both Thestrup and Wilkinson prefer to discuss what is best for the Lady Vols prior to their own career ambitions.
“First of all, my ambition for the team is to win the SEC and to at least make a placing in the NCAA tournament,” Wilkinson said, adding that she would also like to achieve first team All-American honors.
“I think I’m very lucky. It’s a fantastic life honestly,” Wilkinson said when asked about the opportunity to feature for both New Zealand and the Lady Vols. “I’m very proud to play for my country and for my new family here. They are fantastic.”
Though Wilkinson and Thestrup are serious about academics, they also hope that success on the team and with their respective nations will lead them to future professional careers, possibly in the National Women’s Soccer League in the U.S.
“Dream big or you won’t accomplish what you go for,” Thestrup said.
She also mentioned that former Denmark forward Michael Laudrup and current women’s national team forward Pernille Harder are two of her inspirations as a player.
Wilkinson cited U.S. national team center forward Abby Wambach as her role model.
“She keeps calm when the pressure is on,” Wilkinson said.
A quality the Lady Vol forward also possesses, as she showed when scoring for New Zealand against Wambach and the U.S. in a friendly in February 2012.
“That goal was a milestone for me and the benchmark I’ve set for myself," Wilkinson said.
The Lady Vols are currently on a four-game winning streak and are 5-1 overall after weekend victories against Dayton and Mercer. The team will play at Middle Tennessee State on Friday before returning home Sunday to take on Western Kentucky at 1 p.m.