There were many new faces on the court for the Orange and White on Thursday night in the Lady Vols volleyball season home opener.
However, that didn't prevent them from sweeping Austin Peay to serve up the Comcast Lady Vol Classic.
Behind solid play from freshman outside hitter Ashley Mariani and sophomore setter Lexi Dempsey, Tennessee (7-1) won the three sets 25-14, 25-22, and 25-18.
The win also improved the Lady Vols record in season home openers to 29-6 all-time.
Mariani finished with a game-high 13 kills, just one off her career record, while Dempsey posted her second consecutive double-double, with 35 assists and 10 digs.
"We are starting to add some different things to her [Mariani's] offense," said Lady Vols head coach Rob Patrick. "She's doing some things I didn't expect her to do this early in the season. For her to come out and play at this level I'm really excited to see where she's going to be in another month."
The Texas native enjoyed her time in front of a home crowd for a change.
"I was really nervous but kind of excited at the same time," said Mariani. "I had a lot of adrenaline going and my teammates helped keep me calm. We worked together well in our first home game. I think our focus was really on point."
The match was not just the first inside Thompson-Boling Arena for Mariani and Dempsey, who played her first season at Portland, but for many others.
In fact, there were seven girls that played in their first home game.
"We are all working together to help them learn Tennessee volleyball," said junior defensive specialist Nikki Brice. "It's important for us to help them out and share with them what we've learned over the years."
Another freshman that had a memorable first game at home was outside hitter Jamie Lea who finished second on the team with nine kills.
"The crowd really helped our young girls play at a high level," said Patrick. "I was proud we were able to play pretty consistently that out dug us almost the entire match. The students here are the best fans in the country. They were the reason why we were able to start so fast in the beginning of the match."
Unlike previous games this season for the Lady Vols, they jumped out to a fast start on offense in the first set.
Brice served the team to a 9-0 run to help take the set and establish the tone for the rest of the match.
"Serving is such a momentum changer," said Brice. "When we can go on runs like that it really just crushes the other team when they can't get out of it. Everybody was doing their job and we really came together."
Tennessee was also dominant in the middle of the match, as junior middle blocker Shealyn Kolosky and Carly Wishlow combined for eight blocks.
"I was really excited about how our two middles came in and played tonight," said Patrick. "They only had two errors on a total of about thirty attempts. They both made all of the right decisions tonight."
The Lady Vols will have a tough test next in No. 25 Wichita State, who they will play against Friday night at 7 p.m. To come out on top the team believes they must continue their relentless defense.
"We have to play defense," said Patrick. "One of the things I'm very proud of is that we are number one in the country in digs. For our team to be able to take that to heart and put out defensively is really big. We've built this program on defense and ball control."
Ellen Mullins will look to continue to play a big role for the defense, as she came into the tournament with the most digs per set (6.80) in the country and led the team with 20 against the Lady Govs.
"We were tested tonight and they made us play at a high level to beat them," said Patrick. "I was proud we were able to battle through and come out on top."
The Lady Vols this weekend will also face ETSU and Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday to conclude the tournament.