The University of Tennessee tennis team reached the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament; finished last spring season ranked No. 19 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings, and carried this strong top 20 ranking into the summer.
"Our team never really showed its true character or played to its full potential until (the) last week (of the season)," co-head coach Mike Patrick said about the Lady Vols' NCAA run. "We had some ups and downs due to injury and adversity (last) season.
"But to see us play well (that) last week...make all the trials and tribulations worthwhile."
Sophomore Blakeley Griffith said she and her teammates tried to improve on their end-of-season effort over the summer.
"The summer (was) a time for us all to get better by playing in tournaments and match play," Griffith said. "We all (had) a workout schedule to follow for the summer, which included weight lifting and playing (tennis) for about two-to-three hours a day."
Griffith, who had a 31-13 record last season as a freshman, also described specific parts of her game that she worked on during the summer.
"I worked on my serve and volley," she said. "That is the best part about the summer...you can focus on how you need to get better."
Griffith participated in three tournaments in July that were one after the other and said they were critical to her improvement.
The leadership role on the team is in question this year because top-ranked Tammy Encina and Melinda Morrow graduated.
When asked who would take over the leadership role on the team, Griffith paused to give it some serious thought.
"Everybody has a chance to be the leader," she said, "but I would lean towards Ashley Robards since she was injured last year and this year she will want to step it up."
Robards entered last spring's season with a ranking of No. 96 in the country. She missed the first two SEC matches of the spring because of her injury.
But she came back strong in the NCAA tournament as she defeated her opponent in three sets to secure a place for the Lady Vols in the Sweet Sixteen.
Griffith and Victoria Jones were the only freshmen on the team last year, but did not play like typical freshmen.
Along with winning over 70 percent of her singles matches, Griffith had a 7-4 doubles record with teammates Sabita Maharaj and Breanna Kray.
Jones had a first-year singles record of 25-11. She was also on a doubles team with the UT graduate Encina at the St. Mary's Classic last fall, where they won two matches to reach the finals.
Griffith said the incoming freshmen could achieve more than Jones and her.
"I do not see any reason why they cannot do better than we did," she said. "I am sure that they will want to step up and contribute to the team."
Griffith earned her starting position on the team with hard work. She believes that is all it will take for the incoming freshmen to do the same.
"If they want to work hard," she said, "then they will do just as well as Victoria and I."
Published: Sat Aug 14, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:16 p.m.