By: Brian Rice
SEC Digital Network
Kylee Rossi wanted to stay close to home for college. As one of the most decorated female soccer players the state of New Jersey had ever seen, she certainly had plenty of options. Still, Rossi made a trek to Knoxville to check out what the University of Tennessee had to offer, and the rest is Southeastern Conference history.
Rossi was the first student in the history of the prestigious Pennington School to be named a Parade All-American in any sport for the 2004 season, on top of being named New Jersey Prep School Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004. She scored a staggering 98 goals in her high school career to go with 64 assists. The list of major college offers was as along as her list of accomplishments, but much like the characters in the song, once she climbed ‘ole Rocky Top, Rossi knew where she wanted to be.
“I was planning on staying closer to home,” Rossi said of her initial college plans. “I gave Tennessee a chance and went down for a visit and did not want to leave. The atmosphere and the amount of support the University showed toward athletics were incomparable. The academic support, top notch facilities, and the fact that the entire state bled Orange was hard to not to want to be a part of.”
As much as the facilities and intangibles factored into the decision, Rossi said it was also about the people.
“I had an incredible amount of respect for the leadership under women’s athletics director Joan Cronan, and trusted that Angela Kelly would be a perfect leader to take me to the next level in my game and more importantly, as I mature into a young lady. Ange was an amazing coach with a competitive, yet caring approach that I embraced which made UT the perfect environment for me to be successful.”
Tennessee started its soccer program in 1996, but had really come into its own as Rossi was preparing to make her college choice. The Lady Vols won back-to-back SEC Championships in 2003 and 2004, but graduated a who’s-who of the Tennessee record books following the 2004 season. Kelly targeted Rossi and her class to keep the momentum going.
“When our class came in, the program just graduated an amazing class with players like Keeley Dowling, Kayla Lockaby, Sue Flamini and Lyndsey Patterson, so we had big shoes to fill,” Rossi said. “But there was still a solid foundation as well in Vanessa Phillips-Bossart, Ali Christoph and Jenny Jeffers.”
With the foundation in place for success, Rossi stepped in and made an impact right away. She scored a goal in her collegiate debut against top-ranked North Carolina, becoming the seventh player in UT history to accomplish the feat. Rossi led Tennessee with eight goals in her freshman campaign, and was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team as UT took its third-consecutive SEC title.
“As a freshman, it is hard to know what is expected of you, and you fear the unknown,” Rossi said. “But you also play free because you are the freshman and the pressure isn’t on you. We had great leadership and talent which made me mature quickly and allowed me to not play like a freshman. Every single player on the team that year contributed to our success in winning the third-straight championship.”
From there, all Rossi did was lead Tennessee in goals three more times, the only player in the program’s history to lead her team in scoring all four years. She was named Second-Team All-SEC as a freshman in 2005 and picked up first-team honors in 2006, 2007 and 2008. She was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2006 and 2007 and remains the only Lady Vol to win the award. Rossi is UT’s all-time leading scorer with 43 goals to go with 16 assists.
“When I think about being the team’s leading scorer all four years, honestly I would be disappointed if I wasn’t, Rossi said. “To me, that was my job on the field, just like it was Jamiel (Johnson’s) job to keep the ball out of the net and record shutouts. That was my job and my contribution, to score goals.
“(The record) brings along the glory, but I could not have done it without every single player on the team and for them, I am thankful. Also a ton of credit goes to Ange as she spent a lot of time coaching me how to be more dynamic in the attacking third- making the different runs and making more/better opportunities for myself.”
Rossi bookended her time at Tennessee with SEC Tournament Championships, as a freshman in 2005 and as a senior in 2008. But she had a different perspective for the title in 2008, one that would eventually lead her down a path for the next phase of her career. She sat out the final matches of her senior season, including the SEC Tournament, with an injury.
“It was a terrible way to end my career,” Rossi said of the injury. “To not be able to contribute on the field at the SEC tournament was not ideal, but my team pulled together and brought it home to Knoxville. That brought a great end to my career at UT, knowing that the four years, countless hours that I invested with my teammates paid off. The SEC and NCAA Tournament experiences that I had over the years were unforgettable and I wish for every student athlete to have those same opportunities.”
Though she spent parts of the next two years playing professionally, Rossi had been bitten by the coaching bug, aiming to give the next generation of the same access that led to her career. And Rossi said the leadership she played under as a Lady Vol paved the way for her success.
“Sitting on the sidelines for the tail end of my senior year is when I realized I wanted to be a coach,” she said. “Sharing my knowledge and passion for the sport is what I wanted to do. It is a totally different ball game on the coaching side, recruiting, paper work. I feel that to be a good coach, you had to be coached by great coaches. I had the amazing opportunity to be coached by Ange Kelly, who was coached by one of the best, Anson Dorrance.”
Rossi began her coaching career in Knoxville as a student assistant in 2009 while completing her degree at Tennessee. From there, she returned to New Jersey and coached club teams for Next Level Soccer Academy, where she was director of the Girls Program. She got back in the collegiate game as an assistant at The College of New Jersey, a perennial top-10 program in NCAA Division III. She is currently in her first season as an assistant coach in Division I, at Monmouth University.
“I am so thankful that Dr. Marilyn McNeil (Vice President/Director of Athletics) and head coach Krissy Turner had the faith in me to pursue my passion as full time career,” Rossi said about her new post at Monmouth. “I absolutely love what I do now and am extremely thankful for all the help along the way, my family, my teammates, and my coaches.”
Even though she is now firmly entrenched in her new career and back in her home state, Rossi still reflects back on her days in the Orange and White, glad that she took the chance on coming south for her collegiate career.
“My four years at Tennessee were unforgettable,” Rossi said. “The SEC was a very competitive conference with many talented players and it is going to continue to get stronger and stronger. Even though I am a Monmouth Hawk now, I will always be a Lady Vol and will forever bleed Orange.”