Erica Dengler-Evans got her kicks assisting those of others.
Dengler Evans was the Region 1 Player of the Year and offensive player of the year in the district as a senior in 2003 for the Lady Hilltoppers, primarily because she made teammates more dangerous with her penetration and passing.
Her coach at Science Hill, Michael Smelser, is a fitness freak tri-athlete, but even he got tired of seeing how unselfish Dengler-Evans was.
“I’m sure Erica probably still has the most assists at Science Hill,” Smelser said. “In fact, she was so unselfish I actually had to talk with her to get her to start going to goal. She was tenacious and self-sacrificing.
“Every time Erica touched the ball you just knew something positive was coming. Teams would pull their best player and put her on Erica. And not only did she dominate them, but that also opened up other holes – other avenues – for us.”
Playing with the likes of Caroline Kind and Missy McFadden, Science Hill reached the substate for the first time during Dengler-Evans’ senior season. She made the Tennessee Athletic Coaches Association all-state team.
“My whole senior year was fun,” Dengler-Evans said. “We just kind of beat the pants off of everybody in the region. … D-B was our biggest competition in the region. That was always a game we looked forward to.
“Kristen (Fabick) played in the back. So it was kind of like when I’s playing offense I was always playing against her. She was a really good player. We had played on some ODP teams together and so we had a friendly rivalry.”
Girls’ soccer seemed especially appealing when Dengler-Evans was coming of age.
“Growing up, we had some really good role models on the U.S. National Team with Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy and all those players that were really successful and dominant in world soccer,” Dengler-Evans said. “They were really good people to look up to.”
Dengler-Evans looked up to most, especially early in her career. Smelser described her as "4-foot-nothing" as a freshman, and recalls how she was all but eclipsed by the pronounced crown on Tennessee High's field.
“All you could see across that crown was the top of her ponytail," Smelser said.
She smiles when Smelser’s name is mentioned.
“He was definitely an interesting influence,” she said. “Fitness was always something that was very important to him, and he tried to get us whipped into shape. He was always really positive. I enjoyed him coaching me.”
Dengler-Evans started four years at Austin Peay. She was selected as most improved player in 2005 and voted the team’s offensive MVP in 2006. She set a school record for games played and finished her career third in goals and points.
She won the Ohio Valley Conference academic medal of honor four years and made the ESPN The Magazine’s academic all-district second team in 2005.
“Soccer was just something I liked to do, and it definitely helped me get to where I am today,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gotten a scholarship for college. I wouldn’t have got my education and wouldn’t have met my husband.”
Smelser thinks of Dengler-Evans as a tiny titan whose stature remains a pillar in the Lady ’Toppers program.
“Erica never took a day off and made a great commitment to the program,” Smelser said. “I’ve seen girls’ soccer in this area since it first cranked up here in the ’80s, and she’s one of the best outside midfielders to ever play around here. She kind of paved the way for the success of girls’ soccer at Science Hill.
“I always challenged them individually: What legacy are you going to leave as a player? And now Erica’s going in the Hall of Fame.”