Imagine yourself as a Division I athlete, and in the fourth day of preseason practice, a shoulder injury forces you to sit out the entire season.

Whitney Heeres experienced that and the frustration that accompanied it, but it did not define her as a Lady Vol volleyball player.

Heeres is one of two seniors on this year's volleyball team, an outside hitter from Flushing, Mich., who started playing volleyball at a young age, following in the footsteps of her older sister, Krystal.

"My sister started playing when she was in the seventh grade and I was in the third grade," Heeres said. "And I would just pepper around with her in the backyard, and that's when I started, and I just fell in love with it. When I was finally old enough, I was able to join a team myself."

As she grew older, her game grew better. She was all-state as a junior in high school and was a nominee for Miss Volleyball in Michigan her senior year.

She decided to attend Ball State but only stayed for two years.

"There were some things that went on there that I didn't want to be a part of anymore," Heeres said. "So I decided that I wanted to transfer just for personal reasons. I put my name out there and Tennessee was really interested. I came down for a visit, and I loved it. I loved what the program was about and where they were going, so I decided to come here."

In Heeres' first year at Tennessee, in her fourth day of practice, she injured her shoulder and was forced to miss the entire 2012 season.

"It was definitely not what I expected, coming to a school and getting injured right away," Heeres said.

Through that ordeal though, Heeres never lost heart.

"I never had to sit out a whole season before," Heeres said. "I was staying really positive and staying on top of rehab so I could get back this year."

Though her lone season in uniform with the volleyball team has been a challenging one for the Lady Vols (9-22, 1-15 SEC), the speech pathology major is attempting to spread that same positive energy throughout the team.

"The biggest goal now is trying to finish the season strong and setting up the team for a good start next year," Heeres said.

Heeres has embraced her role as a senior on this year's squad.

"I try to look out for everyone else and try to keep the team together and focused on what our goal is," she said.

Head coach Rob Patrick issued high praise for the 6-foot-2 Heeres, who is third on the team in kills with 229.

Patrick said usually when players are injured and have to sit out for an extended period of time, they get lost off to the side.

That was not the case with Heeres, who ended up becoming a captain.

"That tells you a little about her character and the type of person she is," Patrick said. "Obviously, she worked her tail off to get back to where she is. She has given us everything she can this season. She's a very brave young lady. She is all into what Tennessee volleyball is about, and she has had a really nice senior year, especially if you take it in context with her injury.

"When you think of Whitney, you don't think of her as a volleyball player, you think of her as a person," Patrick added. "The type of character she has, she's somebody that I'm really proud of, and we're really fortunate to have her in our program."