April 29, 2014
BY: ROBBY VERONESI
In the midst of a grueling finals week in Knoxville, the men's and women's tennis student-athletes took a break from the studying and relaxed in the team room at the Goodfriend Indoor Tennis Center.
With the smell of chicken fingers and hot wings wafting around the room, the Vols and Lady Vols took their turns reclining on the big leather couches, awaiting some big news--where they would play in two weekends for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.
The men's squad provided the entertainment, as--one by one--each of the new athletes of the program came out in suit and tie, some with complementary shades, adding some style to the otherwise casual event.
Then came the main event: finding out where each team resided in this year's bracket.
Both squads knew that UT would not be hosts of a regional this season, so anticipatory chatter of where they would go became prevalent on everyone's mind. Would the Big Orange travel to Palo Alto? Champaign? Charlottesville? Maybe even South Bend?
The No. 20 Vols became the first of the two teams to find out their location. Tennessee will be the second seed in the Durham regional, traveling to Duke University to take on No. 54 Elon. The host Blue Devils will take on Winthrop in the other first round matchup.
"We all want to host. We don't get to this year, but that doesn't derail what our goal is," said Head Coach Sam Winterbotham. "We're a tough team. Nobody wants to see Tennessee in their bracket
The Durham regional offers quite the Big Orange flair. Along with the Vols, both Elon and Winthrop have significant ties to UT, specifically on the coaching staffs. The Phoenix, who have already upset No. 11 Duke earlier this season, sports UT alum John Collins as volunteer assistant coach. Collins played for Tennessee last season after transferring from Maryland.
If both Tennessee and Winthrop were to advance to the second round, the Vols would face another team with a couple of familiar faces on the opposing coaching staff. Former Vols Bryan Swartz and Ed Jones serve as assistant coaches in Rock Hill, S.C.
"My first thought was John Collins," admitted redshirt junior Hunter Reese after hearing the selection. "He lived with me over the summer (and) it will be good to see him again. I really wasn't thinking about where we were going, so it all was a surprise to me."
After the men found out their position in the bracket, the Lady Vols had to wait until the final quarter of the bracket to see their name appear on the screen. No. 34 Tennessee also earned the second seed, where they will play No. 60 Georgia State in Chapel Hill, N.C, on the campus of the No. 7 University of North Carolina--21 minutes away from where the men will be playing.
"It was a nervous but exciting experience," said junior Joanna Henderson. "It has been an up and down season and we weren't really sure what to expect. I think when our name got called, it was just a lot of relief and happiness."
UT earned its 20th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, and 24th overall, but this year will be another experience for a squad which will showcase five freshmen and a junior (Henderson) in the starting singles lineup. After losing in the first round of the SEC tournament earlier this month, the Lady Vols will look to learn from their prior tournament experience.
"Getting in was a great thing and I'm excited that they did get in," said Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick. "With this format, it is win (and) you keep going, lose and you're out, so you just have to go out there ready to play."