For the UT volleyball team, the road to the SEC Championship starts tonight.
This weekend at the Stokely Athletics Center, the Lady Vols will tangle with the Mississippi duo of Ole Miss (1-12) Friday at 7 p.m. and Mississippi State (1-9) Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Rebels and Bulldogs have combined to lose 11 matches in a row. Ole Miss's only win was against Alcorn State and State's was against UT-Martin.
Tennessee coach Rob Patrick said he's not about to look past them, though.
"We are not good enough to just stand out there and win matches." Patrick said.
"They both have fine athletes and at any time the light could come on and they could take off and beat us pretty bad."
Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State gave UT tough matches last season and Patrick has been reminding his young team of that all week long. It took the Lady Vols five games to beat Ole Miss and four to knock off Mississippi State in 2002.
Sophomore setter Julie Knytych said the Lady Vols have a tendency to play to the level of their opponent and wants to see that trend end this weekend.
"It's really going to be a match more won by our play rather than them outplaying us," Knytych said. "If we play as well as we can, we should be fine."
Knytych earned SEC Player of the Week and Blue Demon Invitational MVP honors for her play last weekend.
She's not the only UT player having a standout season, though.
Sophomore middle blocker Kristen Andre has a .425 hitting percentage coming into SEC play.
The best percentage in the SEC last season was .404.
Junior outside hitter Michelle Piantadosi is recovering from a leg injury and she should be ready to play this weekend. Patrick said Piantadosi performed admirably last weekend, despite only playing at about 40 percent of her normal ability.
As for the whole Tennessee team, the Lady Vols have gained plenty of momentum heading into SEC play. UT is coming off of a tournament championship in Chicago and are currently on a hot streak, winning nine of their last 10 matches.
"We have really done a good job of positioning ourselves to go into conference play," Patrick said. "I really think that it gets easier now because we play less games in more days."
After this weekend, 14 SEC matches remain and Patrick said he feels like his team is ready to meet the challenge.
"I feel real good about where we are at right now and I am ready to see us keep improving and keep winning," he said.
Published: Fri Sep 26, 2003 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:24 p.m.