The UT volleyball team has won more SEC games than any team in school history and tallied the program's third 20-win season since 1989. Most teams would consider that a successful season on its own.
Not this one.
The Lady Volunteers head to Columbia, S.C., to compete in the SEC Tournament as the fourth seed and will take on fifth-seeded Georgia in the first round.
The match against the Bulldogs is the most critical match of the season. A loss to UGA would most likely crush any NCAA Tournament hopes the Lady Vols have. A win would keep UT squarely on the bubble.
"The match against Georgia is very important," UT head coach Rob Patrick said. "It is a match we need to win in order to accomplish our goals."
No member of the Lady Vols has ever won an SEC tournament game, but junior outside hitter Whitney Gifford said the team is ready to change that.
"We are really looking forward to moving out of the first round," Gifford said. "We know we can beat Georgia - it's a matter of us playing our best game."
The first round matchup will be the rubber match of the series. Each team has won once at home, but Tennessee earned the higher-seed based on total games won (5-3).
Gifford said she feels her team has gained an advantage over the two matches.
"I think playing them for the third time helps us a lot," Gifford said. "It took them five games to beat us and we swept them pretty easily, so I hope we can do that again."
Patrick said consistency will be the biggest key to the match.
"When we play our best volleyball for an entire match, we are a really tough team to beat," he said.
Last season the Lady Vols were also on the bubble and were swept out of the tournament by Arkansas in the first round and did not earn a bid to the NCAAs.
Patrick said this year's team is different and he expects different results.
"This group is much more experienced than last season's group," Patrick said. "We definitely do not expect a repeat of last year's tournament."
If the Lady Vols are able to defeat the Bulldogs, they will have to face the winner of the Florida-Kentucky match.
But Patrick said his team has not given one thought to a possible rematch with Florida.
"We take everything one game at a time," Patrick said. "We absolutely have to beat Georgia. Only then we can begin to look at Florida."
Gifford said the team understands the importance of this weekend.
"We know what we have to do and we will go out and do it," she said.
Volleyball team looks
Published: Thu Nov 20, 2003 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:37 p.m.