For a team that was predicted to finish fifth by the coaches of the SEC, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers (23-6, 14-2 SEC) have had quite the season to this point.
The Lady Vols locked up their 17th SEC regular season championship on Feb. 28 against Texas A&M, and following the release of the SEC awards on Tuesday, this team has that much more to be proud of.
The award with arguably the most notoriety was given to junior guard Meighan Simmons, who was named Co-SEC Player of the Year along with Kentucky guard A'dia Mathies. Simmons, who was also named to the All-SEC First Team, said that while the award means a lot her focus is on trying to help the team get better.
"It means a lot," Simmons said. "I try not to focus on the accolades too much because I know that there is so much work that I have to do. There are so many more games to play, but I just take it one day at a time and thank God for blessing me with the opportunity to be player of the year. I just want to continue to help the team get better and better each and every day."
While Simmons' award is a big one, the award that will mean the most to the team is head coach Holly Warlick being named SEC Coach of the Year. While Warlick is thrilled about the honor and believes it is a great thing for the program, she said she'd really want three more conference wins en route to a tournament championship.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled and excited about it," Warlick said. "I'm just doing what I've been taught to do and these young ladies and staff have responded. It's exciting and it's great for the program, and it's nice and I appreciate it, but I'll take three wins for the SEC Tournament."
She would later give all the credit of winning the award to her players.
"To get the honor I got, you have to have great players," Warlick said. "There are great coaches out there that don't even get considered because of their win-loss record, and they are still good coaches, but when you have great players it makes a big difference."
Freshman forward Bashaara Graves was honored by being named to the All-Freshman Team, as well as the All-SEC First Team. Graves is the first Lady Vol freshman to be named to the All-SEC First Team since Candace Parker in 2006. Graves, who found out the news unexpectedly while on the way back from Lexington, Ky., said that the accolades should give her confidence going into the SEC Tournament.
"I heard it over Twitter actually," Graves said. "It just made me happy. I was on the bus and I just couldn't help but smile. It gives me a lot of confidence coming into the SEC Tournament."
As Graves said, these awards should give the team a good amount of confidence going into SEC Tournament on Thursday, where they will look to accomplish the double-double (SEC regular-season and tournament championships) and win their 17th SEC Tournament.Tennessee has the privilege of being off until the third round of the tournament and will square off against the winner of No. 8 Arkansas and No. 9 Florida at noon on Friday.