May 30, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee volleyball program will welcome one of the top recruiting classes in the Southeastern Conference and one of the best in the nation to Rocky Top once again this season, as PrepVolleyball.com ranked the incoming Lady Vol class No. 17 in the country.
"We are extremely excited about the athleticism and experience within this recruiting class," UT head coach Rob Patrick said. "All five players have competed at a very high level and have achieved very high success in their high school and club programs. The one word I would use to describe this class is winners. They'll have the ability to come in and play very early in their careers. A lot of credit needs to be given to my assistant coaches Alan Edwards and Rachel Cooper in assembling this very strong, top-20 class."
The talented group features five student-athletes, including three national top-50 recruits and one high school honorable mention All-American. The Lady Vols have been a fixture on the PrepVolleyball.com rankings since the website began track the information in 2003, appearing on the list in all but one season. UT earned top-10 recognition from PrepVolleyball.com in 2011 (No. 8), 2010 (No. 4) and 2006 (No. 8), signing the SEC's top class in all three years as well.
Tennessee holds the No. 2 rated class in the SEC and is one of five league schools to make the list of 30 teams in 2013. Arkansas came in just one spot ahead of the Orange and White at No. 16, while Missouri was ranked 18th, Kentucky placed 24th and Florida came in at No. 27.
Joining the Lady Vols for the upcoming season is setter Abby Brewer of Paradise Valley, Ariz., middle blocker Raina Hembry of Portland, Ore., outside hitter Jamie Lea of Efland, N.C., middle blocker/right side hitter Ashley Mariani of Arlington, Texas, and defensive specialist Bridgette Villano of Davie, Fla.
Headlining the class is Mariani, the 31st-ranked player in the class of 2013 per PrepVolleyball.com's Senior Aces. The 6-foot-1 middle blocker/right side hitter and USA Junior National Team member finished her career with the Arlington High School Lady Colts with 1,179 kills and 472 blocks. Mariani was named an AVCA Under Armour All-American Watch List member and one of Volleyball Magazine's Top 25 Underclassmen.
Lea, the No. 37 ranked player by PrepVolleyball.com, joined the Tennessee program in January following a standout career at Orange High School in Hillsborough, N.C. A four-year captain, the outside hitter earned Carolina 3A All-Conference recognition every season and finished her career with 1,142 kills, a .371 attacking clip, 138 aces, 126 blocks and 381 digs.
Hembry ranks 45th on PrepVolleyball.com's Senior Aces and comes to Rocky Top having led Central Catholic to three consecutive Oregon 6A State Titles. A 6-foot-3 middle blocker, Hembry was also named to Volleyball Magazine's Girls' Fab 50 list, which recognizes the top 50 seniors in the nation.
Villano comes to Knoxville after a four-year career at legendary St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The defensive specialist earned AVCA Under Armour All-American Honorable Mention and Mizzuno/Volleyball Magazine third team All-America honors this past season. She led the Raiders to the Florida 7A State Championship match as a senior and won four district championships and two regional championships. Also a track & field standout, Villano won the Florida 4A high jump and long jump district championships and placed 12th in the state meet in both events.
A three-year letterwinner at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., Brewer earned all-state and all-city recognition as a senior with the Firebirds. A 5-foot-9 setter, she was a three-time all-region honoree and earned MVP honors at Chaparral all three seasons. The youngest of five siblings, Brewer's brothers Charles and Chase were both pitchers at UCLA. Charles is currently playing in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. Her sister Ashley swims at USC and her brother Connor plays quarterback at the University of Texas.
Tennessee will open its 2013 schedule away from home for the first time in five years as the Lady Vols head to Cincinnati, Ohio, to compete in the Cincinnati Invitational at Fifth Third Arena from Aug. 30-31. UT will play the Bearcats, Butler and Morehead State at the event.