A junior forward and guard for the Lady Vols basketball team, Shekinna Stricklen begins her third season with hope and plans for the future.

With the 2010-11 season just around the corner, Sticklen is enjoying the experience that comes with being a veteran player. She is enjoying her time here in Knoxville and is aware of the changes that have taken place between her first year as a Lady Vol and now.

"My first year was a struggle, mainly for being so far away from home," Stricklen said. "Several times I wanted to say 'No, this isn't me,' and go home, but I sucked it up, and it turned out great, and now I love it."

Not only did her attitude toward Knoxville change, but her confidence in her game and the way she played were improved as well. Through the leadership of coach Pat Summitt, Stricklen began a new position as a point guard on the team and learned to communicate more and more with her teammates.

"The first year was a struggle, it was a learning period, playing a lot as a freshman and then actually coming in and playing a point guard," Stricklen said. "My sophomore year, things got better, and I learned more, and I feel like I improved, and this year, I feel like I have improved a lot, especially as a point guard. I'm talking more and being a leader, and I feel like it's helping the team out a lot this year."

Coming to UT was not something that came as a sudden decision for Stricklen. As a child, Stricklen always dreamed of playing for the Lady Vols and following in the footsteps of former Lady Vol Chamique Holdsclaw.

"It's been my dream to come here and play," Stricklen said. "My role model (is) Chamique Holdsclaw. I love it when she was playing here, and I kind of based some of my skills off of her."

Junior forward Glory Johnson has seen the impact that the hard work has had on Stricklen's play, and she feels Stricklen is an exceptional member of the team. With practices now underway, this becomes more and more evident to her and her teammates.

"She's huge, she's quick, she's versatile, she can hit the outside shot, she can drive," Johnson said. "She helps our team so much, and as long as we keep her confidence up all the time, she'll be a huge impact on our team."

With a little more experience helping her out on the court, Stricklen is now able to see the growth of the team over the years and has a better feel for where the team is as a whole. Stricklen said the team is more of a running team this year, but the most encouraging thing to Stricklen is the overall health and fitness of the team.

"Everyone is healthy and our team chemistry, everyone clicks together," Stricklen said. "We're always together, and I just love this team."

The team is so well bonded that even free time is spent together. This is something that Stricklen truly enjoys. She said she loves her teammates and enjoys doing anything with them.

"We love watching a movie together," Stricklen said. "We love going to eat, bowling, skating — we just hang out together as a team. That's the best thing to do when we're on an off day, and (it) also keeps you out of trouble."

Beyond basketball, Stricklen is also a full-time student majoring in sociology and criminal justice. While this is what she's focused on now, Stricklen is hoping the degrees will be a backup plan for her future dreams of playing professional basketball.

"Hopefully I'll just go to the WNBA or play some overseas," Stricklen said.

Until that time, Stricklen is facing another year with the Lady Vols, and she feels that they have a chance to prove themselves this year. With only two incoming freshmen, the team is more experienced and ready for the challenges ahead.

"I feel like this is the year to show that Tennessee is back," Stricklen said. "We're a veteran team, we've grown, we have learned, and I just feel like our mindset is on this one goal to get to Indianapolis to the Final Four and just go all the way."