A season after helping lead the Lady Vols to a perfect regular season mark of 16-0 in SEC play, a 34-3 overall record and an Elite Eight appearance, forward Glory Johnson is back for her senior season and is ready for the season to tip off, as coach Pat Summitt and the team look to bring home the program’s ninth national championship.

“The off-season practices for the most part have been really good,” Johnson said. “We have been focusing on improving our play as a whole and going further than we have ever gotten. Coach Summitt has been emphasizing daily to us how important it will be for us to keep our focus this year and how we can’t, for example, let a loss get to us and hold our heads down. It’s all about making the most of your opportunity.”

Johnson improving — something she’s done every year playing under Summitt — will go a long way toward the Lady Vols possibly cutting down the nets at the end of the season.

After averaging 10.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game her first two years as a Lady Vol, Johnson had a breakout junior year, which has helped many recognize her as one of the top women’s college basketball players in the country. The 6-foot-3 Knoxville native set career-highs in all four categories last season and averaged nearly a double-double a game, as she put up 12 points and 9.7 rebounds.

“It’s really important to be an asset on both sides of the ball,” Johnson said. “When you turn the ball over and miss a shot you have to get back on defense and get the ball back. Both ends of the court are really important, and if you can’t play both you are hurting the team. A team can have a great offense, but if they can’t hold their own on defense and create turnovers, the chances of winning aren’t nearly as high.”

Going into her senior season, she believes her speed and rebounding on both sides of the ball are her top strengths on the court, while she has been working on improving her mid-range shooting this off-season.

Not only will her skill on the court play a huge role for her team and factor into its success, but so will her leadership. However, Johnson will not be alone in her leadership role, as there will be four other senior leaders on the court in Briana Bass, Vicki Baugh, Alicia Manning and Shekinna Stricklen.

“The team chemistry is really going great so far,” Johnson said. “We all spend so much time off the court together and get along so well that when we get on it we all just connect with each other and are on the same page. My role as a senior this year is to be a leader by example on and off the court.”

One teammate that Johnson has helped mentor over the last year has been sophomore point guard and 2011-12 Preseason All-SEC selection Meighan Simmons, who led the team in scoring and assists her first year with 13.5 points per game.

“Glory has really helped me develop as a player since I arrived here,” Simmons said. “When she wants me to make a good pass to her she will pull me to the side and say make that a better pass. Me and her have grown really close, and she’s been an amazing leader and basketball player for this team.”

Although no current Lady Vols have a national championship on their resume, Johnson and one of her teammates over the summer brought something almost as special back home with them: a USA gold medal in the 2011 World University Games held in Shenzhen, China.

On their way to winning gold, Johnson and All-American Lady Vol teammate Shekinna Stricklen contributed in major ways, as the two helped lead team USA to a 6-0 record and beat Taiwan in the finals 101-66. The experience is something that both girls will never forget.

“It was an amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime experience to represent the United States with Shekinna this past summer and win a gold medal,” Johnson said. “To be around so many other athletes from across the world and playing against them was very honoring and a feeling I can’t even explain.”

Johnson and her teammates are hoping that the 2011-12 season for the Lady Vols will be a season hard to put into words as well.

“Last year we were cut short of our top goals, but we expect to fulfill them this year completely by working hard as a team from start to finish and by not giving in,” Johnson said. “We expect to reach the Final Four and to of course play in the national championship game. It is safe to say we are striving for gold this season.”