Sept. 15, 2011
KNOXVILLE - Rain forced the Tennessee Lady Vols tennis team inside the Goodfriend Tennis Center during their first official practice of the 2011-12 campaign Thursday morning. But it didn't force them from having a productive opening day.
"First of all, our girls have done an amazing job of getting prepared for the first day of practice," co-head coach Mike Patrick said. "They've worked hard on their own. It showed up today and made our life easy. We have a lot to work with and they've done a great job getting to this point."
While the Lady Vols practiced for the first time this season under the watch and leadership of co-head coaches Mike Patrick and Sonia Hahn-Patrick, their lone senior has led them in workouts since the squad reconciled for school in August.
"(Natalie Pluskota) has just done a super job taking this young team and getting them to a point where we don't really have to baby step through our first day of practice," Patrick said. "We went full bore today. We were good to go and they still have a lot left in them."
With three freshmen and a pair of sophomores, the veteran leader was pleased with the team's progress to this point.
"It was actually a really productive today," Pluskota said. "It's exciting to be out here for the first time all together with the coaches. It was productive. We've been out here quite a while this morning, but we had a really good practice and we'll come out tomorrow morning ready to go."
The Lady Vols will begin individual tournament play, Sept. 23-25, at the Furman Fall Classic in Greenville, S.C. Although team matches don't begin until January, everything has been team-oriented.
"It's exciting just to be out here all together," Pluskota said. "We have a lot of people willing to work. Just in that last workout, some people got to comp the last couple of runs but they weren't going to let half the team run and the other half not.
"Just the fact that we never want to do anything alone (has been the difference). Everything is together. Our camaraderie among the team is really good."
Although the Lady Vols have traditionally practiced in the afternoons, the switch to morning workouts has been a welcome one.
"I'm not a morning person so it's a little rough for me, but it's nice being done around 9:30 every day so I have the rest of the day to do homework, get rehab in and things like that," sophomore Brynn Boren said.
With all of the adversity that a student-athlete faces, Patrick thinks the switch to a.m. practices will prove a good decision.
"First of all, they don't have anything else on their minds," he said. "They're not awake enough, really. They're here. They're fresh. If anything else goes wrong during the day, we've already had a great workout and most of our stuff is done."
Led by four upperclassmen last season, the Lady Vols' approach hasn't swayed despite having that number cut in half.
"It's not really changing," Patrick said. "What we have to do is adapt to each one's personalities a little bit. We take their strengths and try to build on them.
"We have a lot of talent to work with in this group. With the three veterans we have coming back, they're all solid performers who the sky is the limit for."
The sky is often reserved for those that have the initiative to put in hard work day in and day out, something Patrick sees in his 25th squad at Tennessee.
"It's their self-motivation," he said. "We're not having to come out here and prod these girls to do great stuff. They're wanting to do it on their own.
"They're wanting to achieve great things. I'm not having to go out here and kick start it. They're doing it because they want to do it."
If day one of the 2011-12 Lady Vol tennis season is any indication of where this team can go, the end result looks promising. Rain or shine.
"They're great kids, they work hard and they all have the same goals," Patrick said. "Natalie Pluskota has done a great job as a leader and has set the precedent on how hard we're going to have to work to be successful this year. We're on the right track."