KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- With just six days remaining until its 2014 season-opener against Tennessee Tech at the Appalachian Invitational, the Tennessee volleyball team ran through its second official scrimmage on Saturday evening at Thompson Boling Arena.
Saturday's intrasquad exhibition, contested under the eyes of a batch of local, certified referees, served as a welcome checkpoint in the preseason for head coach Rob Patrick. The 17-year headman was pleased with the progress his club has made since the first scrimmage held seven days ago.
"I'm very excited about the progression we've made in the last week," Patrick said. "Our freshman are starting to play a little more free and getting more comfortable in our offensive and defensive systems and in the techniques we teach for passing and defense. Now we're able to play a little more instinctual volleyball without thinking."
LINEUP IN THE WORKS
Still, with the number of practice days quickly dwindling, Patrick has not yet identified his starting group or a specific personnel rotation. With such pronounced youth on his roster, Patrick admits his evaluation of lineups and personnel groupings will extend beyond next week and into the season.
"Solidifying the lineup is going to be a process," he said. "We have a lot of really good players and some of whom can play multiple positions. It will likely be a process even into the season. But it's a good situation to have because we really didn't have any depth last year. This year we have some depth and the kids are making it hard for us because they are all playing very well."
COMFORT IS KEY
And while deciding on the initial lineup will take some precedence over the final week, more polishing is required in many areas to bring this roster containing only three upperclassmen up to snuff. The learning curve is great for a group that holds six freshmen and six sophomores and attaining a certain level of comfort for those young players is also a major priority.
"We still need to get everyone up to speed -- especially our young players -- on the philosophy we have this year," explained Patrick. "That includes ball control, defense, and those type of things. We want to get closer to a lineup that will give us the best chance to be successful, but we also want the whole team to get more and more comfortable with our system and with each other."
LEA ON THE RISE
One of the young players already demonstrating that sort of comfort is sophomore outside hitter Jamie Lea. The Efland, North Carolina, native led the team in kills per set last season at 2.99 and impressed on Saturday night with a handful of kills late in the second set.
"We asked a lot out of her last year," said Patrick, "which was almost not fair to her. As a freshman she wasn't quite ready to take that sort of responsibility on. But she's actually been here longer than any of our other sophomores so she's going to be a little more comfortable based on how long she's been on campus.
She's playing at a high level and is somebody who we can play three rotations on the right or left or six rotations and have her pass or hit out of the back row. She adds a lot of flexibility to our lineup and I'm excited about where she is right now."
Tennessee will take the floor for the first time in 2014 on Friday, Aug. 29 against Tennessee Tech at the Appalachian Invitational in Boone, North Carolina. First serve is slated for 4 p.m. ET. From there, the Lady Vols play two matches on Saturday, facing Cleveland State at 10 a.m. and host Appalachian State at 7 p.m.