The victory equaled the largest posted by Tennessee during its entire 2009 season, a 3-0 win over Mississippi State last October.
The Big Orange out-shot the Lady Toppers by a commanding 23-2 total, getting goals from junior midfielder Chelsea Hatcher, who also delivered an assist as part of her three-point night, senior forward Anna Fisher and freshman midfielder Caroline Brown.
For Brown the tally marked the first of her brief career at Rocky Top, while fellow rookie midfielder Tori Bailey also recorded her initial career assist on Hatcher’s season-opening score. Sophomore midfielder Kylie Bono (first career assist) and senior defender Grace Cuenin also recorded helpers during the shutout triumph.
Tennessee out-shot Western Kentucky in the first half, 11-1, and by a commanding 12-1 count during the second stanza. UT also recorded a 9-0 advantage on corner kicks, forcing five saves from Western Kentucky’s preseason All-Sun Belt Conference goalkeeper Libby Stout.
Lady Vols redshirt senior net minder Molly Baird was required to make just two saves in tallying her eighth career solo shutout between the pipes.
“We’re happy to get this win tonight,” Head Coach Angela Kelly said. “At the Division I level, you always need to be excited about every victory. We showed some great flashes, but we need to be able to put together a full 90 minutes, not 10 minutes here and there.
"We need to be a hardened team going forward, especially in SEC and NCAA play. It’s early in the season, and we’re excited about tonight. Overall, we have lots of things we can work on.”
The Lady Vol offense pressured right from the opening kickoff as junior midfielder Emily Shore had a shot blocked at 2:24 that drew the first corner of the match.
Just a meager 3:33 into the new season, UT’s diminutive Bailey (4’11”) made a run from the left side toward the middle of the 18-yard box, delivering a feed to Hatcher. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native settled the ball and drove a right-footed blast past the WKU keeper for a quick, 1-0 advantage.
The Lady Toppers managed a shot during the ninth minute as Baird was forced to make a save on a drive by WKU forward Laura Ray.
Lady Vol senior midfielder Tanya Emerson also broke up a potential breakaway scoring opportunity for Western Kentucky as her close marking on Ray disrupted the reception of a cross from the right wing approximately a minute later.
The Tennessee lead expanded in the 22nd minute as Bono received a feed up the middle and passed to Fisher just inside the 18. The Franklin, Tenn., native, who has returned this season following an injury-filled 2009 campaign, dribbled to the right around a defender and unleashed a drive back across the face of the goal into the lower left-hand corner to make it 2-0.
The onslaught continued at 23:53 as Hatcher flicked a header off a long pass on frame forcing more action from WKU’s net minder Stout.
With the action generally contained in the UT offensive zone, Fisher nearly made it a three-score lead, managing to hit the crossbar at 27:07. The ball bounced back out in the middle of the 18, but the Lady Vols couldn’t get a follow-up shot.
A corner kick with a little over four minutes remaining in the half was delivered just in front of the goal by Emerson, forcing Stout to leap high to prevent any further damage before the break.
It was more of the same when the teams came out of the locker room for the second stanza.
Sophomore defender Ali Hall expended great effort on a header that hit the right post, before the ball bounced back into play. Sophomore midfielder Amy Harrison was waiting to slam home the rebound for what appeared to be Tennessee’s third goal of the contest.
Unfortunately, the official along the sideline had his flag up signaling offsides as the score was disallowed.
Lady Vol senior midfielder Julie Edwards broke in clear up the left side in the 51st minute, but while attempting to hit the far corner, the Glenmoore, Pa., native shot just a couple of feet wide of the right post.
A Western Kentucky foul during the 70th minute finally helped to add another tally on the scoreboard for the Big Orange. Off the free kick from approximately 40 yards out, Cuenin drove a ball into the middle that ricocheted off Hatcher to the feet of Brown.
The product of Hershey, Pa., blasted the sphere home to make it a commanding 3-0, Tennessee. The rookie also scored for UT during last week’s 2-1 exhibition victory at Louisville.
From there it was just trying to protect the clean sheet. WKU had one final scoring chance when Ray broke in near the right post and fired a shot on goal. Baird cut down the angle and deflected the shot over the end line to stop the Lady Toppers final scoring opportunity of the contest.