Sept. 30, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The "GrindFor9" is officially under way. Head Coach Holly Warlick put the 10-member Tennessee women's basketball team through a brief, but productive, early-morning workout on Monday at Pratt Pavilion.
With Warlick due in Birmingham later in the day for meetings at the SEC Office, she and her staff opted for a 6-7:30 a.m. practice rather than waiting until Tuesday to begin their countdown for the 2013-14 campaign.
Per NCAA rules, UT has the 40 days preceding the season's first game in which to hold 30 practices. The Lady Vols host an exhibition game on Nov. 4 vs. Carson-Newman (7 p.m. ET) and play their first regular-season contest on the road at Middle Tennessee on Nov. 8 (7 p.m. CT).
The Lady Vols, who will return to the court Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. for a full-scale practice (closed to the public), were credited by the coaching staff with displaying a great deal of energy and spirit on Monday despite the early wakeup call.
After new strength and conditioning coach Lee Taylor led the team through stretching and warm-up activities, Warlick's second UT edition took the floor and met promptly at 6 a.m. at the center circle for the team's traditional pregame huddle. With each player's and staff member's feet touching the player standing next to her or him, a few brief comments and motivational messages were shared before the squad embarked on an hour-and-a-half session.
True freshmen Mercedes Russell and Jordan Reynolds, who have been on campus since the second session of summer school, looked comfortable in their surroundings while going through their first "official" preseason practice as Lady Vols. Redshirt freshman Andraya Carter, who missed all but seven games last season after suffering an injury to her right shoulder, is back at 100 percent and ready to re-launch her college career.
That trio joins seven veterans on a squad that is ranked No. 3 in Charlie Creme's espnW.com 2013-14 preseason top 25. The Lady Vols are the defending SEC regular-season champions and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight last season, marking the third-straight year they were on the brink of returning to the Final Four.
UT returns three starters in 2013 SEC Co-Player of the Year Meighan Simmons, 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year Bashaara Graves and two-year starter at point guard Ariel Massengale. Also back are part-time starters Isabelle Harrison and Cierra Burdick as well as reserves Jasmine Jones and Nia Moore.
The team has embraced the motto "GrindFor9," as it works toward its goal of making the NCAA Final Four in Nashville this season and winning the program's ninth NCAA title.