Don’t expect the same facial expressions from the Tennessee bench this winter. But anticipate the same expectations.
Speaking at UT media day on Tuesday, just two days before the Lady Vols’ first exhibition game, first-year head coach Holly Warlick said she won’t be able to deliver the same deathly stares that became habit for her predecessor and former boss Pat Summitt. But she plans to continue demanding the same lofty expectations for a program with eight national championships.
“When you lose five starters, you lose the winningest coach in the country, I understand that the expectations for this team will be lowered,” Warlick, who spent the last 27 years as an assistant to Summitt, said. “But, they aren’t lowered for me. They're not lowered for this program, for these fans. We don't like being ranked 20th, but it is preseason and we're using it as a motivation factor.”
Tennessee heads into Thursday’s game against Division II Carson-Newman ranked 20th in the preseason Associated Press poll, which came out over the weekend. Four Southeastern Conference teams are ranked higher — Kentucky (sixth), Georgia (10th), newcomer Texas A&M (15th) and Vanderbilt (16th).
The Lady Vols also were picked to finish fourth in the SEC preseason media poll.
Along with not having Summitt on the bench for the first time in 39 years, they lost three of their top five scorers from a team that won 27 games, captured the SEC Tournament championship and reached the Elite Eight.
“I think we're extremely excited to get on the floor and for you all to see where we are,” Warlick said. “If this was a regular season game, I would be a little nervous.”
The roster consists of just 11 players with six returning lettermen, only two seniors and four freshmen. Preseason All-SEC second-team selection Meighan Simmons (11.1 points per game) paces the young squad that will get tested early. After two exhibition games, Tennessee starts its season on the road — at Chattanooga and at No. 22 Georgia Tech before their home opener against Rice on Nov. 15.
“We’re trying to build a foundation for this year and years to come,” Warlick said. “At times, I think that last year's team just didn't play as hard as they could. This year's team understands that we can't be up and down. We have to understand what we're doing and the intensity level has to be there. It's the only way this team is going to be successful.”