For the first time since 1976, the Lady Vols are not ranked in the preseason AP top 25 poll. This year’s omission ends a 42-year streak for the program.
The Lady Vols have been ranked in the preseason women’s college basketball poll ever since its inception prior to the 1976-77 season. This year marks the first time ever that Tennessee isn’t included in the preseason top 25.
Under Holly Warlick last season, Tennessee saw its 565 week stretch of being ranked in the top 25 come to an end. They were dropped from the top 25 on Jan. 14 and didn’t find themselves ranked again for the remainder of the season. Former Lady Vol point guard Kellie Harper takes over as head coach after Warlick was let go as a result of the team’s poor performance last season.
Oregon begins the season ranked as the No. 1 team in the country following an appearance in the Final Four last year. Baylor, Stanford, Maryland, and Connecticut — who the Lady Vols face this season — round out the top five.
As for SEC teams making the top 25, Texas A&M is ranked the highest at No. 6 in the poll. South Carolina begins the season ranked No. 8, while Mississippi State comes in at No. 10. Kentucky and Arkansas are the only other two teams ranked to begin the season. The Cats start the season at No. 13, while the Hogs begin the year ranked No. 22. This is the first season since 2002 that Arkansas begins the season ranked.
The Lady Vols will face nine teams ranked in the AP preseason top 25 poll.
In addition to facing the SEC teams that are ranked, they’ll be on the road to face No. 3 Stanford on Dec. 18 after already having faced No. 16 Notre Dame in South Bend on Nov. 11 and No. 15 Texas in Thompson-Boling Arena on Dec. 8. Midway though conference play, the Lady Vols will travel to Hartford on Jan. 23 to take on No. 5 Connecticut.
Though Tennessee did not make the preseason top 25 poll for the AP, the Lady Vols were ranked No. 25 in ESPNW’s preseason top 25.
“Not everything in Knoxville is new,” ESPN women’s basketball analyst Charlie Creme wrote. “It just seems that way. After head-coaching stints at Western Carolina (2004-09), NC State (2009-13) and Missouri State (2013-19), Kellie Harper returns to lead her alma mater and will try to inject a different energy into a program that was close to missing the NCAA tournament last March.
“The roster Harper inherits will look different, too. Only two of the top six scorers from a year ago are back (leading scorer Evina Westbrook transferred to UConn). Junior Rennia Davis (14.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG) will be asked for even more production and Zaay Green (9.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG) might need to make a big jump in her second season if Tennessee is to reestablish itself as an SEC contender. Jordan Horston, a 6-2 freshman, was the No. 2 prospect in the country coming out of high school and stuck to her commitment after Holly Warlick’s dismissal. She has the potential to be the next Lady Vols star.”
Harper made her unofficial coaching debut on Tuesday night, as the Lady Vols beat Carson-Newman 70-44 in their lone exhibition game. Davis led UT with 20 points in 21 minutes, while sophomore Rae Burrell chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds.
The Lady Vols will officially begin their season next Tuesday in Johnson City when they take on East Tennessee State. Tip-off for the season opener is slated for 7 p.m. ET. They’ll then return home on Nov. 7 for the home opener against Central Arkansas.