Over the course of a season, no matter what the sport may be, most teams will have to fight and attempt to overcome adversity. As for the Tennessee Lady Vols volleyball team, this is something they are already facing and will have to try to endure throughout the 2011 season.

When 14th-year coach Rob Patrick and his No. 24 Lady Vols tip off the regular season at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday in the Comcast Lady Vol Classic against Villanova, they will be without preseason All-SEC outside hitter Kayla Jeter. During practice last Friday, Jeter tore her anterior cruciate ligament, which will sideline her for the rest of the season. She was one of two returning seniors this season and played a key role in UT’s 25-7 record season a year ago, in which she finished first on the team in kills (340) and second in solo blocks (19).

“We’re going to need a total team effort to replace Kayla, as well as last year’s seniors Nikki Fowler and Leah Hinkey,” Patrick said. “So far it seems the girls are handling it as well as can be expected, and now it’s just a matter of going out on the court and playing.”

Although the familiar contributions of Jeter will be missed this season, the team’s goals have not changed.

“Our first goal always as a team is to win an SEC Championship,” Patrick said. “We have also been focusing on getting better as a team every day and developing a strong mental toughness. As far as our long-range goal, we want to make a long run into the NCAA Tournament.”

After putting together solid performances last season, junior middle blocker DeeDee Harrison and sophomore outside hitter/libero Kelsey Robinson are expected to perform at an even higher level this year and need to be two of the leaders on a very young team.

“DeeDee and Kelsey have really impressed me in how they have stepped up as the leaders of this team,” Patrick said. “They are two players to keep an eye on this season.”

Harrison finished third on the team last year in kills with 240 and also made a big impact on the defensive side of the ball, finishing second on the team in solo blocks with 16. Robinson, on the other hand, had an immediate impact as a freshman, leading the team in digs with 367 and aces with 21. Not to mention, she was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team.

“During the off-season, we’ve really been focusing on becoming more consistent in all areas of the game,” Harrison said. “For example, we need to work on the little things like passing just as much as we do on serving and hitting. We can’t have a good offense if we don’t pass the ball with precision. We have big shoes to fill this year, but I know we can do it. We believe we can compete with anyone in the country.”

Top recruit in UT History

Highlighting a talented incoming freshman class this year for the Lady Vols is 6-foot-3 outside hitter/middle blocker Tiffany Baker. The UnderArmour First Team High School All-American and No. 4 prospect in the country is expected to make an immediate impact, as Robinson did a season ago.

“We are very excited about our highly rated incoming freshman class and expect a lot of them to take on major roles right away,” Patrick said. “Tiffany is a very phenomenal athlete and she will be a very good sixth rotation player, I think.”

In her senior season playing for Class 5A state champion Hebron High School, Baker registered 544 kills, 224 blocks and 253 digs in 51 games.

Schedule

The Comcast Lady Vol Classic will tip off this Friday night, but UT will wait to hit the court until Saturday, as it will play host to Villanova at 10 a.m. and Maryland at 7 p.m. inside Thompson-Boling Arena.

“We need to go into this tournament with full focus and not think about anything else,” Patrick said about his team, which will have three straight weekend tournaments to open up the season. “The teams we are playing are very good and are coached very well. We are in for a challenge.”