The Lady Vols basketball team will begin their first season since 1974 without legendary head coach Pat Summitt at the helm this Thursday at 7 p.m. Instead, first year head coach and longtime assistant to coach Summitt, Holly Warlick, will lead the team into their first exhibition game of the 2012 season against the Carson-Newman Eagles at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Warlick is not worried about the pressure that comes with replacing the longtime head coach. Instead, she is more focused on using the priceless knowledge she received from the future Hall-of-Famer during her 27 years as an assistant under Summitt.
"I was taught by the best to be put in this position, so I think I'm prepared," Warlick said. "I've been in difficult situations, I've been able to sit back and watch her (Summitt) perform. This is where I've always wanted to be. I love the challenge, and I love the opportunity to be here, it's in my blood."
Warlick addresses the lowered expectations for the Lady Vols due to the combination of a new coach and the need to replace all five starters from last year's SEC championship-winning team.
"I understand that expectations for a lot of people will be lowered, they're not lowered for me, not for this program, not these fans," Warlick said.
The Lady Vols find themselves ranked 20th nationally, despite traditionally being accustomed to finding themselves ranked much higher in the polls at the start of the season.
"Yeah, we don't like being ranked 20th, but its pre-season," said Warlick. "We're using it as a motivation factor."
Although there are many doubters, Warlick has a lot of confidence in her young team.
"I love our tempo, I love our pressure, and I love the fast pace," she said. "That's what I've always enjoyed coaching."
During the years of her involvement with the Lady Vols, Warlick has shared in bountiful amounts of success, but she is prepared for struggles should they arise.
"I'm going to do what I think is best for these ladies, and if I see that my game plan isn't working, I'm okay to change direction," Warlick said.
In order to avoid hitting a rut, Warlick will look for leadership within her young team.
"It's key for our veterans to lead and give (the underclassmen) a blueprint for how we want things done," said Warlick.
With regards to the only two seniors on the squad, she described Taber Spani as "a huge leader on and off the court."
Kamiko Williams, another senior who has also taken on a leadership roll for the team, was labeled as a "fun-loving kid." Warlick explained that Williams' positive demeanor serves as a magnet for the younger players on the team.
"She's an example, and people look up to her," said Warlick.
The exhibition game against Carson-Newman will help the Lady Vols move closer toward an answer to one of the biggest question marks going into this season: who is going to be the starting five on the floor?
"I'm going to use it (the ambiguity regarding starters) to our advantage," Warlick said. "This is something for us to throw out, and put different lineups to see how we respond, and that's what I intend to do."