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VOL. 43 | NO. 33 | Friday, August 16, 2019

Healthy or career? Gilroy makes right choice

By Rhiannon Potkey

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Erin Gilroy, wearing No, 5, in action for the Vols during a soccer match with UT Martin at Regal Soccer Stadium in Knoxville.  

-- Photo By Alison P. Mcnabb/Tennessee Athletics

A sacrifice would have to be made no matter which option Erin Gilroy chose.

The Tennessee redshirt junior received an internship opportunity this summer with Nike in Portland, Oregon. But Gilroy was also rehabilitating from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee she suffered last season.

She knew staying at UT and working with the training staff every day would likely get her back on the soccer field quicker.

“It just came down to how far I wanted to take soccer, and I eventually want to play pro if I can get that opportunity,” Gilroy says. “With that in mind, I had to kind of put my rehab first to get the knee better and focus on that first. I want to get better for my teammates and for myself.”

Coming off a historic season, Tennessee opens the regular season on Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. ET against Fordham at Regal Stadium. The Lady Vols are ranked No. 10 in the United Coaches preseason poll – the highest preseason ranking in program history.

Tennessee reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament last season for the first time ever. The Lady Vols lost a few pieces from the roster, including offensive tour de force Bunny Shaw, but return several key players and welcome a talented freshman class.

“I think we all are pretty excited about this season and the potential we have,” Gilroy explains. “I think we can only keep improving from what we did last year.”

Gilroy wasn’t able to be on the field for Tennessee’s NCAA tournament run last season. She tore the ACL in her knee while planting to take a shot against Texas A&M last October.

Gilroy instantly knew the seriousness of the injury because she had torn the same ligament in the same knee before arriving at UT and had to redshirt her freshman year.

Gilroy missed the final six games last season, and had to support the Lady Vols from the sideline during the postseason.

“It was hard to not be able to be out there helping my team, but I think it grew me as a person, and it made me a better teammate,” adds Gilroy, who competed for the United States at the U20 Women’s World Cup in France in 2018. “I had to try and help the team in a different way, maybe tactically by telling people where to go and what to do instead of being out there physically on the field.”

Tennessee head coach Brian Pensky admires how Gilroy has handled the recovery process. He knew the decision to forgo the Nike internship wasn’t easy.

“It was gut-wrenching for her. It’s probably the most I’ve ever seen her anguish over something because she knew what a special opportunity it was and what that might mean for her down the road,” Pensky says. “But she also knows how much this game means to her through all the highs and lows she’s endured over the last four years.”

Although Gilroy met with Pensky for advice, he wanted to remain objective and not influence her decision in any way.

“I am a big believer – and this is also how I recruit – that I don’t beg kids to do anything. Kids have to have their own lives and make their own decisions,” Pensky adds. “I don’t ever want anyone pointing a finger at us that we made them do something.

“They have to have their own life so they can sleep in their own beds.”

Gilroy’s presence in the Tennessee lineup is valued for more than just her skill level on the ball.

“She brings an infectious energy and passion and fight. She just has a will to win,” Pensky says. “I remember hearing (UT men’s basketball coach) Rick Barnes say a couple of years ago that hard work is a talent and not everybody has that talent. If we do call hard work a talent, Erin Gilroy is one of the most talented players I’ve coached. She is just a grinder on both sides of the ball.”

The progress Gilroy made in rehab this summer helped to ease much of the angst over skipping the internship. She feels even stronger than before and hopes it shows on the field once the season begins.

“This time around is just easier because I know what is coming in the process and I feel like I can work smarter,” Gilroy explains. “I feel like the mental side is the biggest part about coming back from the ACL reconstruction. It can take a toll on you, and some days are better or worse than others. I understand that more this time.”

Gilroy’s perspective has partly been shaped by a more serious injury scare in her family. Her older brother nearly died in a skiing accident two years ago.

Daniel Gilroy was in New Mexico, where he is stationed in the Air Force. He launched off a mountain and into a pile of rocks. He broke all his ribs and fractured his neck and back.

“It was pretty hard to hear at first just because there was no family out there and nobody really knows what happened,” Erin Gilroy recalls.

“He really wasn’t responding at first and it took a few days for him to wake up. Everyone was afraid he may be paralyzed or have brain damage. Luckily, God was looking out for him. He’s made a full recovery.”

Gilroy has a close relationship with her three brothers. The reason she started playing soccer was because she was always attending their practices and games.

“My dad coached my two older brothers and I would train with them and all of their trainers. They were very influential and pushed me to become a better athlete and person,” Gilroy says. “It was always really competitive at our house and they definitely made me better and made me love the game more.”

While Gilroy is being smart about her ACL recovery and not trying to rush back, the potential to play in front of family and friends provided some extra motivation for the Bellmore, New York native.

Tennessee faces Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey on Sept. 29th and Columbia in New York on Aug. 1st.

“I was pretty excited once I found out and was hoping that I would be back and full go by then,” Gilroy says. “It will be pretty nice to be in my home state to see everyone and play in front of them since not all of them can come down to Tennessee.”

Gilroy is majoring in supply chain management. She is on schedule to graduate in December, and plans to begin grad school in sport management.

After pursuing a pro soccer career, she wants to work for a sports league or sports company on the business side.

Even though her decision to remain at UT all summer instead of working at Nike wasn’t easy, Gilroy says the reward will come once she steps on the field again with her teammates.

“The last time around everything worked out and I was able to come back and play better than I was before,” Gilroy says.

“I have been keeping that in my mind, and it’s been really helpful.”

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