The UT volleyball team was looking for more than just a season-opener in Cincinnati, Ohio this weekend – they were hoping to set the mood for the 2013 season.
After a weekend series that saw the Lady Vols go 2-1 against the likes of Morehead State, Cincinnati and Butler, the tempo was well established.
The Lady Vols registered wins against both Morehead State and Cincinnati on Friday, and suffered a loss to Butler on Saturday. The tournament began with a hard-fought battle, resulting in a five-set victory for the Lady Vols over the Morehead Eagles on Friday morning.
"Morehead State last year had the longest winning streak in division one," head coach Rob Patrick said. "They won their conference and they're really very good. We just made a few unforced errors that kind of kept the match close with Morehead. They played well, but we were able to pull it out at the end with some really good system playing. I was very happy about that."
That isn't all Patrick has to be happy about.
Freshmen Ashley Mariani, who had 38 kills on the weekend while also earning All-Tournament honors, and Jamie Lea, who put up 26 kills overall for the Lady Vols, set the tone early and often for the Lady Vols.
Both are newcomers to a Lady Vol team that faced a handful of roster turnover during the offseason.
"The first game we kind of started out slow," Whitney Heeres, senior outside hitter, said. "We had a lot of young players and people that just hadn't had a lot of experience playing. We kind of started out with a lot of nerves. But as we went on through the match, we calmed down and were able to get into Tennessee volleyball and were able to play the way we wanted to play"
Numerous newcomers were successful throughout the three-match weekend, but senior defensive specialist Ellen Mullins continues to remain a driving force on the squad.
"Ellen Mullins was a fantastic defensive presence" Patrick said.
Mullins scooped out a whopping 72 digs over the weekend while also earning All-Tournament honors alongside Mariani.
"What we've been working on at practice is just playing hard, passing, and our technique" Mullins said. "Just playing our game and playing Tennessee volleyball is what we were focusing on."
The Lady Vols have a flurry of strong opponents to face in the upcoming season, including a set of typically-solid SEC teams.
"It's exciting that we're able to get better in just one weekend," Heeres said. "That's really exciting to know that we still have a few tournaments left in preseason to keep getting better and to get ready for the SEC."
The Lady Vols return to the court for the the Country Inns and Suites Invitational in Chattanooga, Tenn. on Thursday, Sept. 5.