When the Comcast Lady Vols Invitational trophy was presented, the winning team's bench erupted in celebration. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the recipients of the award were the Wichita State Shockers.
Left on the sideline looking on were the Lady Vols who – after posting a promising 6-1 start to the season – left with unanswered questions and a 1-3 record in the tournament.
In matches against Austin Peay, ETSU, Wichita State and VCU, the Lady Vols struggled, capped off with a loss in their final match to VCU.
UT dropped a 3-2 decision to the Rams after squandering a two set lead to fall 25-18, 25-22, 17-25, 17-25, 12-15.
"We played some good teams that challenged us," Tennessee head coach Rob Patrick said. "It's a really good learning experience for our team to realize what we need to work on and what will help us be more successful in our later matches."
The tournament began in a promising way for the Lady Vols as they swept their Ohio Valley Conference opponent Austin Peay 25-14, 25-22, 25-18.
The game marked the first home game of the year for the volleyball team as they have been on the road the first two weeks of competition in Cincinnati, Ohio and Chattanooga, Tenn.
Following the Austin Peay match, the team took a nosedive, rattling off three straight losses – with the first coming against the eventual tournament champions, Wichita State. The Lady Vols never got into a rhythm and eventually lost in straight sets 16-25, 12-25, 13-25.
"We still have a lot of things left to work on," senior Whitney Heeres said. "We have a lot to learn from these matches we lost and basically just stay mentally tough so we can learn from that and grow from that."
Despite the tough tournament, the Lady Vols did have a bright spot, with Heeres being named to her first All-Tournament team. The outside hitter had a strong tournament, recording career highs in kills with 33 and a .263 shooting percentage.
"I was really impressed with Whitney Heeres," Patrick said. "I think people realized how well she played for us with her blocking and her hitting. She's just been getting better and better and more consistent."
The emergence of Heeres is a welcomed surprise for Patrick, as the senior was sidelined for all of last year following a shoulder injury.
"I'm just glad I'm able to be out there," Heeres said. "I wasn't able to play last year so I'm just glad to be back on the court and help lead the team."
Now that Heeres has returned, her presence is beginning to be felt on and off the court.
"She is great," freshman Jamie Lea said. "It's awesome because I can come to her whenever I or any of the other freshmen have a question and just her being a senior and knowing the game, can answer and help lead our team."
Despite the less than favorable tournament, Patrick remained confident in his team.
"That's why we play these preseason tournaments to help us get ready for the SEC season," Patrick said. "We brought in some really good teams that play different styles of volleyball and it showed us some of our weaknesses that we need to get better at."
The Lady Vols do not have long to linger on the 1-3 weekend as they begin another tournament at home on Friday. The weekend will see the Lady Vols play Coastal Carolina, Jacksonville State and Georgia Tech.
With the team now standing at 7-4 on the season, the word on every player and coaches' mind is rebound.
"We have to learn from what happened," Patrick said. "We need to learn to be more competitive and learn from what happened. It's a great learning experience when you lose and we'll apply that and rebound next match."