When the Tennessee Lady Vol tennis team heads to Starkville, Miss., later this week, everything in the past will have to be left here at UT if they want to have success.
Following wins in their final two home matches against Arkansas and LSU, the Lady Vols hit the road to finish off their regular season. They started in Nashville, where they made quick work of Tennessee State, 5-0. But that was as good as it got for the Lady Vols, as they lost to No. 8 Alabama, 4-2, and No. 22 Auburn, 4-1, to end the season.
Even though the team finished on a bad note, junior Brynn Boren believes the team's confidence is still high.
"We played both teams, Auburn and Alabama, tight, and they are really tough at home," Boren said. "They were both close matches that came down to the wire, so I think our confidence is still high."
While their confidence may still be high, the Lady Vols are a young team (6 of their 9 members are freshman or sophomores) that is continuing to grow. Co-head coach Sonia Hahn-Patrick believes that their inexperience, especially in tournament play, shouldn't be a factor because of what they've been through this season.
"I think we have a young team, but I also think that the season makes you grow up very quickly," Hahn-Patrick said. "I don't think they see themselves as a young team, I think they just go out and try to compete hard, and try to play with everyone."
There is no doubt, however, that the Lady Vols have talent, as they are currently ranked No. 29 and finished fifth in the SEC, which currently has the most schools in the Top 30 of the ITA Rankings with eight. The only question is whether or not they have the talent to hang with the likes of Florida and Texas A&M.
"I think that we have enough talent to be competitive with every team," Hahn-Patrick said. "There are some teams that are a little bit deeper than us, but everyone is so even this year, it's just a matter of who shows up on what particular day."
The Lady Vols get a first round bye in the tournament and will play the winner of the Mississippi State-Missouri matchup. In a format like the NCAA Tournament in basketball, getting ready for a game that you're not really sure who you are playing can be difficult, but Hahn-Patrick said that it isn't difficult to prepare because they have played everyone already.
"We've played everyone in the tournament," Hahn-Patrick said. "I don't think there will be any surprises or anything shocking, it's ... more a matter of us being ready and us being prepared, rather than who we play."
For senior Kata Szekely, this is her last chance to complete what past UT teams she has been on haven't been able to do: win an SEC championship.
"It would be amazing," Szekely said. "My first two years we lost in the finals and we were really close to winning the tournament both times, so obviously it would go on to be a major accomplishment in my four years here."
While this is Szekely's last opportunity to win an SEC championship, it is the first chance for the Lady Vol freshman on the team, who could kick the rest of their career's into high gear with a tournament win.
"For me, it would be unbelievable," freshman Mimi Fotopoulos said. "We've worked so hard as a team day in and day out since I got here. So I know, especially for our seniors and upperclassmen, it would be amazing, and for me as a freshman coming in, it would just be an incredible thing to do freshman year."
Whether they come away with a SEC championship or not, Szekely is proud of what the team has accomplished this year.
"I am (proud of what this team has accomplished this year)," Szekely said. "We finished fifth in the conference, which is always good, especially since we added two more great teams to the conference (Missouri and Texas A&M), so it was a great SEC conference season and we just want to do better at the tournament."