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Jessica Rolfs’ collegiate soccer career has amounted to seeing only 6 minutes and 15 seconds of action in a 5-0 rout against Charlotte in 2011.
And as Tennessee’s season kicks off Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Oklahoma at Regal Soccer Stadium, the redshirt senior goalkeeper might struggle to see playing time this year behind junior Julie Eckel and redshirt sophomore Hannah Steadman.
Off the field, however, Rolfs has received plenty of cheers from her coaches, teammates and others for what she has overcome.
Not only has she battled through the frustrations of riding the bench, but she also has done plenty of sitting in hospitals and training rooms following two serious injuries.
After redshirting her freshman year, she broke her arm during the 2010 preseason. Last year, she broke her tibia and fibula in her leg during a practice collision that put her out for the year.
But Rolfs’ spirit has not been broken since she arrived.
“It’s not what I expected coming in, but it’s helped me to grow as a player and I’ve tried to help the team any way I can,” she said following practice Monday.
And others have taken notice of her attitude, especially now that she is back after last season’s injury.
“I think she’s a source of inspiration and has been a great example to some of the players who are younger,” said goalkeepers coach Joe Kirt, who has been at Tennessee as an assistant since Rolfs arrived.
Rolfs came to Tennessee in 2009 from Normal, Ill., after being noticed at a goalkeepers’ camp by a coach who was a friend of then-Tennessee coach Angela Kelly. She was actually interested in a couple of other schools up North, but fell in love with the atmosphere at Tennessee during a recruiting visit.
“I liked the support of soccer and the other sports,” she said. “Everybody I talked to was so interested in me.”
During her time in Knoxville, she has played under two coaches with different personalities and is now in her second year under Brian Pensky, whom she calls more easily approachable.
But through all the changes in the program and with her personally and physically, she said she has tried to maintain the same positive outlook.
Coming back for a fifth year to participate in a sport she still loves was always planned for the honor roll logistics student.
“I just wanted to prove to myself I still could play and play at this level,” she said.
The Lady Vols also hope to play at the same level as last season. After overcoming gloomy preseason predictions to finish third in the SEC and reach the NCAA tournament, this year’s team — with eight starters returning — is predicted to again finish third in the SEC.
And Pensky is comfortable with those prognostications, calling them fair.
“We’re looking to be a good soccer team and to be an attractive, possession-style soccer team that can put teams on their heels and can score some goals,” he said.
“I think if we can stay healthy and can continue to get better throughout the season, I think we can be a team that can compete to be in the top four in the SEC and hopefully compete to win an SEC championship.”
Doubleheader: Tennessee’s game Friday follows a 5 p.m. matchup between Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State that is part of First Tennessee Friday. Officials have announced that admission to all home games this season will be free.