Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Sports Columns

February 16, 2012

Rocky Top Beat: Will the real Lady Vols step forward?

We have seen the best and the worst of the current edition of the Lady Vols in the past two games.

In Nashville against Vandy, the Lady Vols looked totally out of sync and then looked very much like the team many expected against SEC leading Kentucky Monday night.

That leads to the next logical question – which is the real Lady Vols? The answer is probably both. 

Seniors have traveled a twisted road

This senior class started their time on Rocky Top with great expectations back in 2008. It didn’t take long until those lofty expectations faded. Starting the season as defending national champs and getting to Pat Summitt’s 1000 career victory put early pressure on the team.

They struggled to live up to the pre season hype and found themselves with no SEC Championships and a 22-11 record, which included a first game exit to Ball State in the NCAA Tournament. 

The next two seasons found the Lady Vols performing at a more Lady Vol like level with back to back SEC regular season and tournament championships. They went a combined 66-6 and suffered only one narrow loss to Georgia over those two years in the SEC. However, they ran into trouble against other elite teams in the post season, failing to advance to a Final Four. 

Multiple adversities for the 2011-'12 Season

This season the Lady Vols have dealt with Pat’s medical condition, injuries to key starters, and a different game day coaching situation. Just to make it even more interesting for them, they have welcomed a new starting point guard and two additional bench players into the mix. This has been a lot for these young ladies to deal with on the fly as the season has unfolded. Don’t forget that the team had two post players leave the program before the season started because of chronic injuries. 

This past Monday, with the injuries behind them, they showed exactly why this team was ranked so high entering the season. Perhaps it took that bad game at Vanderbilt to focus this team for a stretch run. Over the next two weeks, the Lady Vols will need some help if they are to secure another regular season championship. 

Welcoming the post season

 The Lady Vols look like they could be a handful for any opponent facing them in March. Having said that, they will need to stay healthy and keep their focus if they want to get to the “promised land” in Denver. They have the pieces of the puzzle and their overall talent matches any team they might play. For this core group of seniors, the time to live up to the potential is now!

The future for the Lady Vols and their head coach is full of uncertainty, but this team still has the opportunity to make this season special.

This team looks like they have started to have fun on the court and have finally learned to handle the difference in game day coaching.

Was Monday only a glimpse of what this team could have been or is it what they are? The next few weeks will go a long way into answering that question. 

Vols stock is rising

The Vols have started their own sprint towards March Madness. Pulling a dominating upset in Gatorland last weekend and a solid home win Wednesday over Arkansas certainly has the post season conversation picking up momentum. Coach Martin says they have a real shot at the NCAA Tournament, even though the NIT could be the more logical destination. He has done a great job with a team that was picked last in the SEC. 

Finishing strong

The Lady Vols and the Vols could not have picked a better time to start to peak. It now looks like both teams will be entering the critical time of the season playing their best basketball. Injuries and intangibles are always a concern but, at least for now, Tennessee fans have a lot to be excited about.

Go Vols and Lady Vols.

(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)


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