KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - After returning from a team retreat, the Tennessee volleyball team practiced where it will play its first match of the 2012 campaign in just 10 days, as the Lady Vols came together on the floor of Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday afternoon for Day 5 of the preseason.
Overall, the team is coming together nicely as head coach Rob Patrick and his staff continues to install their offensive and defensive schemes. Today's practice once again stressed the importance of passing, as the Orange & White displayed their competitive nature in a serve receive 3v3 drill and a 6v6 scrimmage to 15 points.
"We're still putting in our offensive and defensive schemes and working with our newcomers to get them comfortable on the court," said Patrick. "We're also just trying to figure out where players should be put on the court."
While it doesn't count for a point on the scoreboard, a good serve reception and pass to follow is one of the most crucial aspects of the game and can often bail a team out in a pressure situation.
"It's one of the bedrocks of our program. It's something we take a lot of pride in," Patrick said. "Our players take a lot of pride in being able to control our opponent's serve. It's something that will always keep us in a game. If our defense isn't as strong as we need it to be or our service game isn't as strong, we can rely on our passing to keep us in the game and keep us in a high sideout percentage until we're able to pick up the other parts of the game."
BIG ORANGE TABBED 15TH
On Monday, the Lady Vols were tabbed 15th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Preseason Top 25 Poll. It marks the third consecutive season UT has been ranked in the preseason poll and ninth time in program history.
UT will face 10 teams, including its first six opponents, ranked in the Top 25 or receiving votes' poll in the upcoming season. All four teams at the Comcast Lady Vol Classic are ranked or receiving votes. Iowa State will come in at No. 10, Florida State at No. 12 and Cincinnati is receiving votes.
Tennessee is one of three Southeastern Conference teams ranked in the Top 25 as Eastern Division rivals Kentucky and Florida came in at No. 13 and No. 18, respectively. LSU, Texas A&M and Missouri are all receiving votes in the poll.
Defending NCAA Champion UCLA was named the preseason favorite with 54 first-place votes and 1,485 total points. Texas, Penn State, Nebraska and USC round out the top five, respectively.
HOME SWEET HOME
Tuesday marked the team's second practice in its home site, Thompson-Boling Arena. Since opening play in the 7,500-seat arena in 2008, the Lady Vols are an impressive 50-8 at home, including a 14-1 mark in 2011. While the venue is top-notch, Coach Patrick attributes the team's success at home to something else.
"Part of the reason we have such a great record at home is our fans," said Patrick. "We have the best fans in the country. They've come out and supported us in record numbers the last three seasons and we're very excited about playing this year in front of them."
While she looks forward to this season's home crowds, freshman setter Bianca Arellano believes practicing in the large and empty arena during the preseason will help the team moving forward.
"It's definitely a lot emptier in here than when I came in for the Florida game," Arellano said. "It's a great environment when we get to practice here in the gym because you never know what the crowd is going to be like at a match. All the girls, we have to work on being loud and working together and communicating because once there is a big crowd in here and we're playing a hard game we can work it out on the court."
She has only been here for a couple weeks, but Arellano has obviously bonded with many of her teammates and is already establishing friendships. However, in volleyball, there is no closer bond than the one between a setter and her heavy ball.
"This is my best friend for four years and I named him Sergio," Arellano said laughingly. "I work with Sergio and I take him home. When I'm watching TV, I'm playing with it. We warm up with our heavy balls everyday as setters. We do 20 reps on the wall, 50 reps on the ground and it really just helps us train our wrists."
Arellano, a 5-foot-8 rookie from Phoenix, Ariz., is not the only one on the squad with a named heavy ball. Sophomore setter and defending SEC Freshman of the Year Mary Pollmiller used Carlos to help her break UT's single-season assists and assists per set records last season. This season, Pollmiller has a new ball with a new name.
"Mary had an old one... its name was Carlos," Arellano said. "Her new ball is named Juan and you can call it Jua for short."