Coming off their final road match and a win against South Carolina, the Lady Vols (19-6, 12-4) extended their win streak to five as they prepare for Friday's match against Auburn (17-9, 8-8).
Tennessee has been surging the last month after somewhat of a slow start to the season. After beginning their 2012 campaign with a 9-5, 2-3 record, the Lady Vols have won 10 of their last 11 matches, defeating the SEC's top two teams, Florida and Texas A&M, in the process. They will have a great opportunity to extend the streak and finish the season strong with their remaining four matches taking place at home over the next week.
The last month has been all about establishing consistency for the Lady Vols. Tennessee head coach Rob Patrick emphasized this in practice Wednesday night.
"The biggest thing is that we've been playing more consistently," said Patrick. "We're making less errors, and we're knowing where to go on the court and who's going to take which ball when it comes over."
Patrick also made note of the team's health having a big impact on the season.
"We had a lot of kids out, and it takes time to get them up to speed again. We've been able to play with a fairly stable lineup for a while now, and that's something that has allowed us to play more consistently."
Despite a conference record of just 8-8, Auburn has won four of its last five matches against SEC opponents. Patrick and the Lady Vols know Friday's match will be no easy task.
"Auburn is a really good team," said Patrick. "They have some great athletes who are very, very quick and really aggressive. We have to be able to slow them down, and we have to do it in multiple ways. We have to do it with our serves, with our blocks, and with our digging."
Junior Ellen Mullins was in the news Monday when she was named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week. This made for her third defensive player of the week award for the season.
"I couldn't do it without my team and their support," said Mullins. "I'm really proud of myself and my team."
Mullins kept her focus directed at Friday's match and on the rest of the season.
"A big thing we've been saying is 'protect the streak.' We've been making a huge surge the second half of the season. We're just focusing on Auburn, taking one game at a time and learning the game plan."
Friday will mark Patrick's 500th match with the team.
"Someone told me that my 500th match was coming up, and it went in one ear and right out the other because I'm so focused on one match at a time," said Patrick. "I've absolutely loved every single minute of my time here. It's gone by so fast that I can't even imagine that we've played 500 matches. The administration has been very good to me, and I can't thank them enough."
The Lady Vols hope to get Patrick a win for his 500th match with Tennessee when they face Auburn Friday night at 7 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena.