The action heated up between Tennessee and Vanderbilt, the rivals tied 1-1 with some 18 minutes remaining at Regal Soccer Stadium.
Ashlee Burt was digging hard.
"I'm a crazy player; I go into tackles all the time,'' the senior defender said Tuesday as she reflected back on the game on Sept. 16. "So it was like an 80-20 ball, I was in favor, I won the ball.''
But when Burt attempted to take her next step, she ended her college soccer career. A torn anterior cruciate ligament in the left knee was the result.
"It got stuck,'' she said. "I heard a pop, and I heard a crackle, and I just went down after that.''
Burt was a team captain at Miami before transferring to UT for a final of year of eligibility. She was allowed to play immediately because she's taking a graduate program not offered at the school she transferred from.
Lady Vols coach Brian Pensky had seen Burt make countless slide tackles before, first when he was recruiting her while he was coach at Maryland and she was playing for Immaculate Heart Academy in New Jersey, and again on the Atlantic Coast Conference soccer battlefields, when the Terrapins and the Hurricanes faced off.
"Ashlee is tenacious, and she throws her body to the ground just to get toe pokes,'' Pensky said. "She lunged with her right foot to poke a ball away and planted with her left and slid to ground.
"I didn't think anything, then from the bench, 60 yards away from her, I saw she couldn't get up; I heard her screaming.''
Burt said there was in
deed pain when she tore the ACL, but the agony of her scream stemmed from a harsh realization.
"I knew it was over,'' Burt said. "The yelling was more emotional than anything else.''
If Burt was anything when she competed, it was emotional, much like her father, Jim Burt, a Super Bowl champion while playing nose tackle for the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants.
Jim Burt was in the stands at the time his daughter suffered the season-ending injury, and he stayed in Knoxville to see her through the difficult days that followed.
"I went in for treatment on Wednesday, and I remember sitting down with my dad, and he said 'this is hard, but God will take care of this, and it's time for us to press on,' '' she said.
"Dad told me we've had our time to cry and grieve. We do everything wholeheartedly, and now it's time to rehab and be ready for surgery.'
"So I am taking the approach to keep moving forward.''
As much as Pensky would like that to be on the field when the Lady Vols (7-2-2, 2-1-1 SEC) play host to Arkansas (4-5-1, 1-2-1) today at 7 p.m., he also realizes Burt's leadership remains valuable on the sideline.
"I knew coming into this season that our team's age, maturity and depth could be enhanced by someone who had proven she could do it at a high level,'' he said. "Ashlee has been around the block a little bit, and she knows how to compete.
"The freshman are just a couple of months out of high school, so Ashlee offers a leader who has competitive experience and serves as an academic role model — she had a 3.9 grade-point-average at Miami.''
As much as it pains her to be sidelined, Burt said she is thankful for the second chance she got to play soccer — she thought it was over for her once before the knee injury.
"I redshirted my senior year at Miami because I'd gone on a mission trip to Africa and got malaria,'' she said. "I thought it was over for me then, so here at UT, I've taken the approach to enjoy every practice and every minute of playing time.''
As for learning more about coaching, Burt made it clear Pensky serves as the ultimate model.
"Coach is very compassionate, and the way he cares for every player the same way is amazing,'' she said. "He has been very encouraging, even before this injury, it's just the way he treats his players on the field, always positive and fair.
"I am blessed to be at Tennessee, and being a part of Coach Pensky's team is the best situation any female soccer player could have, by far.''
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee athletics. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32