The Lady Volunteers are rebuilding from the ground up.
After losing the majority of their starting lineup and a transition away from 38-year head coach Pat Summitt, returning coaches and players are facing a season of change. First year head coach, and former Lady Vol point guard, Holly Warlick said she's seen the incoming freshmen fitting in well and the upperclassmen stepping into leadership roles.
"Our team has been working extremely hard. Are we there yet? No, but we're putting in the time and the effort," Warlick said. "Haven't had to coach effort and that's been one of my biggest concerns of our past teams. We're playing hard."
Warlick said the team's aggressiveness and ability to play with reckless abandon is something she likes to see in her players. The transition has only increased their intensity on the court.
"I think secondly, practices have been tuned up a little bit, they're a little bit more intense and our expectations are a lot more," Warlick said. "We're young, we're trying to form great habits, so we probably turned our defense up a notch and our practice intensity up a notch and they're responding."
Incoming freshmen include guard Andraya Carter, forwards Bashaara Graves and Jasmine Jones and center Nia Moore. Transfer sophomore guard Jasmine Phillips is a new face on the team as well.
Warlick said that having five new players has slowed their process down a bit. She said they're focusing on teaching and not getting ahead of the game.
"We're making sure that we're getting certain fundamental things down and we're trying to move on," Warlick said. "How hard they play and what we expect of them, I think they have a clear vision of how we want them to play and where we need to go. We haven't cut them any slack and I think it's in a positive way for them to respond with how they're performing right now."
Warlick said that having a younger team has put more pressure on the upperclassmen to step up as leaders.
"It's key for our veterans to give them a blueprint of how we want things done and it's up to them to help us get there," Warlick said. "It's not about the freshmen. We're (mostly) freshmen and sophomores and we have to have some kind of people who have been here who understand where we need to go."
Fourth-year guard Taber Spani is doing just that. Spani said she wants to be an extension of Warlick when she's on the court and works to build team camaraderie.
"I've been with upperclassmen for three years and having five new players you just try to get to know them," Spani said. "We've had more team functions. I'll cook for them and have them over if they want to or I lead a Bible study at my apartment. On the court is one thing, but trying to get to know them off the floor is something different because then you can understand what makes them tick and it will help you on the basketball court."
Spani said the relationships she's working to build won't end with the season.
"Honestly, once we leave here, we're gonna be family forever," Spani said. "That's just the way the Lady Vols do it."