It hasn't been the type of season early on that Lady Vols fans are accustomed to, but that shouldn't be cause for alarm.

Tennessee was on the brink of being upset at home Wednesday night against in-state opponent Middle Tennessee State University, but the Big Orange were able to take the contest in overtime, 88-81. Couple that with a season-opening loss to UT-Chattanooga and you might hear some early grumbling, but don't heed it.

For the first time in nearly four decades there is a different coach on the sidelines. The transition period to a new coach at any program is a difficult one, especially when the coach being replaced is the best there has been in that sport.

Holly Warlick and her staff have done a tremendous job so far this season, even if the games haven't reflected the traditional early season dominance of years past.

Just remember the Lady Vols graduated five seniors last season. Five seniors, who, by seasons end, were all starting. Two of whom — Glory
Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen — were first team All-SEC players and first round draft picks.

With their departure, a group of freshmen and sophomores have been asked to step up and fill that void.

There is an adjustment period with a new coach and a new offense for the sophomores, and for the freshmen this is a new game entirely. Assistant coach Dean Lockwood realizes this is a tough transition, but also knows it's sink or swim for the young players.

"We're putting a lot on their plate early and you can see at times it may be a little overwhelming and a little too much to chew, but they have to learn," Lockwood said. "If you look at our roster we don't have a ton of people, so these freshmen are going to have to play. We can't field a team without them, so they have to learn."

Over the past four games the Lady Vols have responded to the loss. Freshmen Baashara Graves, Nia Moore and Andraya Carter are players who can contribute regularly this season and the years to come.

Graves has led the team in scoring and rebounding twice. Moore has led the team in rebounding once as well, and Carter is playing around 23 minutes a game and averaging six points.

The toughest section of the Lady Vols' schedule is coming up over the next month — games against No. 22 North Carolina, No. 13 Texas, No. 3 Baylor and No. 1 Stanford — where they will be challenged greatly.

They might not win many of these games, but it's about more than wins and loses in these games, and that's why Tennessee consistently schedules the best teams in the country. It's about being tested early in the season, assessing where they are at, and adjusting and being the best they can be when tournament time comes around.

For this team, more than other Lady Vols teams in recent memory, it's about preparing this young group of ladies for what it means to play at Tennessee and what will be required of them game-in and game-out to live up to the standard of Lady Vol basketball.