***Originally published in the University of Tennessee’s student newspaper, The Daily Beacon. This is the original version of the article printed on 9/10.
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 doesn’t even begin to explain the distance they’ve traveled to settle in at Rocky Top.
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 to have ever graced the Tennessee team. Having amassed over 20 appearances for the Football Ferns, as the country’s national team is known, she has featured at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2012 London Olympics.
After leading the Lady Vols in scoring during her debut season in 2012, she has already been a key part of this season’s success with five goals and three assists in six starts.
Towering over most defenders at 5’11’’, Wilkinson is the ideal center forward, possessing the kind of power and speed that make her an opponent’s worst nightmare. Off the ball, she is the kind of player everyone waits on to make her move. While on the ball, she is calm and composed, taking advantage of through passes from midfield and using her sleek touch and sensational pace to glide past defenders on her way to goal.
Thestrup, on the other hand, is a budding creative force with the Denmark under-19 women’s team, which 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 attacker’s strength is in her versatility, as she has shown by switching between 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 the entire Lady Vol team under Pensky to best her opponents.
Despite their different tongues, style, and age, “the foreigners”, as Thestrup says 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,” said Thestrup, referring to the way they are settling as fellow internationals in Knoxville.
Even though the Dane is still some time from becoming a consistent starter for the Lady Vols, she is willing, like Wilkinson, to do whatever it takes to prove herself in the orange-and-white jersey.
“I knew from the moment that I came to the University of Tennessee that this is where I wanted to be,” said Thestrup. “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.”
It only takes a few minutes with these players to realize that they exude a type of humility unique to those boasting such tremendous experience in soccer. The duo is grounded, preferring to discuss what is best for the Lady Vols prior to their own careers.
“First of all, my ambition for the team is to win the SEC and to at least make a placing in the NCAA tournament,” said Wilkinson, adding that she would also like to achieve first team All-America honors.
“I think I’m very lucky. It’s a fantastic life honestly,” Wilkinson continued when asked about the opportunity to feature for both New Zealand and the Lady Vols. She added, “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 (NWSL) here in the United States.
“Dream big or you won’t accomplish what you go for” said Thestrup when asked about her aspirations to make it in soccer. 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 cites U.S. national team center forward Abby Wambach as her role model.
“She keeps calm when the pressure is on,” said Wilkinson. 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 added.
The Lady Vols are currently on a four-game winning streak (5-1-0 overall) after weekend victories against Dayton and Mercer. The team will play away to Middle Tennessee State on Friday night and Wilkinson and Thestrup will take the field at Regal Stadium for Sunday’s 1:00 p.m. home game against Western Kentucky.