Over the course of Meighan Simmons' career as a Lady Vol, she has been known as a dynamic scorer, but as she enters her final season as the team's lone senior, the flashy 5-foot-9 guard has improved vastly in a different part of her game.
While the reigning SEC Co-Player of the Year is expected to lead UT's scoring attack once again after averaging a career-high 16.8 points per game in her junior campaign, Simmons believes she can contribute in even greater ways on the defensive side of the ball.
"My offensive game is a gift that I have always had since I first played basketball growing up with my four brothers," said Simmons, who has scored 1,487 points in her career. "I wanted to add to my game, and this offseason my defense has really stepped up and is better than ever.
"There's going to be a completely different Meighan that people see this year."
In the preseason, the greatest emphasis stressed to the team has been on defense, and second-year head coach Holly Warlick is impressed with what she has seen of Simmons' progression in that area.
"She has worked really hard on the defensive end," Warlick said. "She has made defense her priority. She is a scorer by nature, but we are trying to make sure she understands the complete game. She continues to make great strides and is a leader by example for this team."
The Cibolo, Texas native finished last season second on the team with 1.4 steals per game. However, she wants to bring her tenacity and fast-paced play to every aspect of her game on the hardwood.
"It's not just going to be the defensive end where I want to bring lots of energy," Simmons said. "It's going to be on offense, rebounding and defending on in-bound plays. Being here for three years, I've become a seasoned player and believe my game has come full circle."
With this season being Simmons last at Tennessee, the sharp-shooting guard is not just focused on expanding her game, but on the big picture as well. That is to help her team compete for a national championship as they grind for the program's heavily coveted ninth championship.
"I really think this year has all the makings to be great," she said. "I feel like every year, we've gotten closer to the NCAA Final Four, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be there this year in Nashville. I'm working twice as hard to make sure that I help my teammates as a senior to get where we want to be. We want to prove to everybody that we can win it all."
Despite being the lone senior on the team, Simmons doesn't feel any extra pressure from her teammates or coaches to do more than she is expected to.
Though only featuring 10 players, UT's roster is packed with potency at both point guard and in the paint.
"It's an amazing feeling to have the depth we do and to be healthy going into the season," Simmons said. "It helps me understand that we are all one and a team. We are going to be able to do a lot of great things this year."
While she expects her greatest memories to come in her final season as a Lady Vol, which will tip-off Friday on the road against Middle Tennessee, she is taking the process one day at a time.
"The feeling that it's my last year here hasn't hit me as hard as I thought it would have by now," she said. "It won't truly hit me until we reach the SEC tournament, because I know that will be the last one for me. I want to make sure I'm grateful for every experience I have as a Lady Vol and just being on the court."
By the time her career at Tennessee is finished, Simmons hopes to not only bring the program its ninth national championship, but to leave a strong legacy as well.
"I want to be remembered as one of those passionate, caring, unselfish basketball players," she said. "A Lady Vol basketball player who represented herself, her family, Pat Summitt, Holly Warlick, all the assistant coaches, and the University of Tennessee to the best of my ability."