Aug. 10, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee volleyball team officially opened the season on Friday, conducting the first team practice of the 2013 campaign. With the arrival of several newcomers to Rocky Top, the Lady Vols also welcomed back six returners as the Big Orange stepped onto the court of Thompson-Boling Arena.
Two-time National Coach of the Year Rob Patrick enters his 17th season at the helm of the Tennessee program, which finished third in the Southeastern Conference last year. UT went 22-8, with a 15-5 mark in league play.
"I'm very excited about our first practice that we just concluded," Patrick said. "As a first practice, we obviously have a lot of new players, we're doing some new things with them, but I was really pleased with how organized they were. Our older players, our returners did a fantastic job of working with our newcomers that came in and getting them into the Tennessee system, getting them into what we like to do, and how we like to do things. It really made this first practice energetic, organized and I was very happy with it. It's really something we can build on."
Under Patrick, UT has compiled 10 20-win seasons in the last 13 years, including nine of the last 11 and a current stretch of five in a row. The Lady Vols have earned NCAA Tournament berths in eight of the last nine years.
"Our goals are the same every year when we come in at the University of Tennessee," Patrick said. "We want to win the SEC Championship and put ourselves in a really great position to extend our life in the postseason play. Those are our goals every year, and it doesn't change this year. A couple of years ago we started four freshman basically, and a couple sophomores and had a very young team that won the SEC Championship. If we come in here, work hard and come together as a team like we are, good things are going to happen for us."
MULLINS COMPETES ON NATIONAL LEVEL
Senior Ellen Mullins spent her summer competing with the A2 National Team in Dallas. The team was comprised of 47 of the nation's premiere collegiate volleyball players. The athletes were selected via the U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team Open Tryouts, which attracted a record 240 participants, held Feb. 22-24 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"It was such a great experience," Mullins said. "I played so much volleyball. It was like a mini preseason, practicing two to three times a day. Getting to play with some of the best girls in the country was really cool and really good experience for me. I learned how other girls played, learned tips from them, being loud and more vocal as a player. Being confident in what you're doing."
The Nashville-native, who started all 30 matches at the libero position last year, was named an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American at the end of the 2012 season. She was one of two players to play in all 119 sets, while also earning a conference-best three SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
With the new season beginning, new roles emerge for the Lady Vol players. As one of two seniors on the 2013 squad, Mullins will be looked on for her leadership.
"I feel comfortable leading this team," Mullins said. "We've been working together all summer and this past spring. I feel confident in my leadership skills and bringing these girls to win, that's what we're here for."
Junior Nikki Brice also echoed her senior teammate's enthusiasm for helping guide this year's team.
"I'm really excited about it," Brice said. "We don't have very many upperclassmen so we're going to all help the new faces get into the gym and get going on what Tennessee Volleyball really is. I help out Ellen (Mullins), while Shealyn (Kolosky) and Whitney (Heeres) are leading the team, too. We all kind of have a plan of what we want to do to help the new girls on and off the court."