Sep 5, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- In the second edition of the 2013-14 Lady Vol Hoops Report, Tennessee assistant coach Kyra Elzy and senior guard Meighan Simmons talked about the 2012 SEC Co-Player of the Year's role this season, how the freshmen are fitting in, the impact strength and conditioning coach Lee Taylor is having and an injury that isn't slowing Elzy down one bit.
NEW SEASON, SAME ROLE FOR SIMMONS
Meighan Simmons knows that defense wins championships.
The 2013 SEC Co-Player of the Year said she didn't play as well as she would have liked in the Lady Vols' loss in the Elite Eight last year because she was too focused on the next game instead of the one at hand. For her senior year, Simmons wants to make her national championship dream come true, and it all starts in the preseason.
"We're working harder than I've seen since I've been here," Simmons said. "We're more hungry as a young team. The more we push and the more we work hard to keep the mentality of grinding for our ninth championship, I think anything is possible."
Simmons has noticed her improvements as a basketball player, as well as her growth on and off the court since her freshman year at Tennessee. She says these improvements are going to be keys in a few short months.
"It's paying attention to detail, and it makes things easier on the court," she said. "The coaches have done a great job and we know that if we work harder now, it will be easier later on in the season."
It's not only Simmons who has noticed her senior leadership already. She knows if she wants to make a difference, it must be noticeable to everyone.
"She had a phenomenal year," Elzy said. "Refocusing on this year, we have unfinished business. We have to go back and tweak our offense. We have to emphasize each player's role so they know what they need to bring so we can get to Nashville."
Although Simmons' role as a senior is different than in the past, the rest of her game and mentality, Elzy says, will remain as it has.
"Meighan's role will stay the same," Elzy said. "She's pretty consistent across the board. She can score; she leads the team by example. We're not putting all the pressure on her, but we did challenge her since it's her last year in that she wants to be in a Final Four before she leaves. I think she'll take that and step up, but her role won't change."
And Simmons isn't about to step away from that challenge.
"I've developed into a better player since my freshman year," Simmons said. "I want to be able to do everything: get assists or rebounds. I want to be able to change my speed at any point in time. I've just been trying to stay calm and poised throughout the game and let the game come to me."
Part of Simmons' team's grind for the ninth national championship is the Lady Vols coming together as a cohesive unit, and the senior says that process is going quite well thus far.
"We have great chemistry, and that's the biggest thing. We contain that chemistry, and if we can keep it through the season we're going to be perfectly fine."
FRESHMEN STEPPING INWith the new school year under way, all eyes are on Tennessee freshmen Jordan Reynolds and Mercedes Russell to see what they can do to help the Lady Vols this season.
As of yet, all the two have done is impress, surprise and fit right in with their team. The fitting in, though, has been a very different process for the five-foot-11 Reynolds and 6-6 Russell.
"They're very finesse players," Simmons said. "Jordan is an energizer bunny, always talking and laughing.
"Jordan is just hungry," Simmons continued. "She reminds me of myself. I didn't talk as much (as she does) and I think that's the difference. She came in early and she did communicate with us because she knew she's going to have to be in a leadership role when she goes out as point guard. She's going to need to be vocal. Coming in, she knew what her role was and what she needed to do early on, and I think she's taking advantage of that."
Somewhat in contrast to the outgoing Reynolds, Simmons says Russell is just as much of a powerhouse, but in her own way.
"Mercedes is always just calm, cool and collected," Simmons said. "She puts the team before herself, and she likes to go where the team wants."
As for fitting in, there are no worries with either of them, as they begin to find their groove with the Lady Vols.
"Coming in, both freshmen are extremely talented, and I think they're going to help us tremendously," said Kyra Elzy. "We just have to keep in mind that they're freshmen. It might take them to the middle of the season to fit the groove, but talent wise, they're going to help us."
From freshman to senior, the pair can help each of their teammates in the team's "GrindFor9" NCAA titles.
"They are the missing pieces to our puzzle," Simmons said. "With their game, they will bring it to the table, and everything else will fall right into place."
With some transition over the summer for the Lady Vols, one of the new positions on the staff has been filled by Lee Taylor, the team's strength and conditioning coach.
In his time on Rocky Top, he's brought his own style and has transformed many of his athletes during the preseason.
"Coach Taylor is fantastic," Simmons said. "He's pushed us out of our comfort zone, and I greatly appreciate that. I have muscles that I didn't know I had before. He's been working us out like that to where we focus on all aspects of our body. His tempo is a lot higher, and it's different. He's straight to the point.
"We go hard for him, he gets us out of our comfort zone and he gets us out of there."
Although it may be hard and Taylor may be the cause for a lot of sweat and tears, each of his athletes is ready for the challenge.
"Coach Taylor is extremely hard on the kids in a good way," said Elzy. "He's helping them get mentally tough, in shape physically and mentally so that by the time Holly gets them for basketball practice, they're ready for whatever."
And Warlick will be ready for basketball practice soon. Until then, Taylor's style is beginning to shape the Lady Vols into stronger, faster and better athletes.
"His business-like, intense approach is a lot like a game," Elzy said. "There aren't any shortcuts, and you have to lay it all out there. It's about mentally getting them ready when they don't think they can get another rep or do another sprint, he's pushing them to the limit and we need that going into some tough games."
For once, the woman on crutches on the sideline during practices isn't an athlete.
It's Elzy, the assistant coach, who had surgery in August and says she's expected to be crutch-less at the end of the month.
"I tore my knee up when I fell down the stairs with my chocolate lab in June," Elzy said. "My dog is perfectly fine but I'm still walking around on crutches. My doctor let me go on the road for recruiting, and we did the surgery when I got back in August."
Not even a torn meniscus can stop this coach. She is already back in the weight room and says the injury hasn't impacted her coaching at all.
"I'm full-go for individual workouts," she said. "I roll around practice in my chair, and my voice and eyes are perfectly fine. I should be good to go by the end of September."
Expect to see Elzy fully-engaged and at 100 percent by the start of the season. There's plenty of time for her to get healthy before the Lady Vols' season-opener in Knoxville on Nov. 4 vs. Carson-Newman.