This Week in UT Sports History – July 20th-26th

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    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

    Major League Baseball returned last weekend with exhibition games ahead of Thursday’s Opening Night. But while the Yankees and Nationals square off in a star-spangled commencement of America’s pastime, college sports fans will still sit, awaiting news on impending fall seasons (or potential lack thereof).

    Last week, the Southeastern Conference announced any student-athletes who choose not to participate in athletic competition during the fall academic semester in wake of the coronavirus pandemic will maintain scholarships and remain in good standing. Students may choose not to participate given potential risks to health and safety. The measure resulted from a unanimous vote of SEC university presidents and chancellors following recommendation by the joint athletic directors. After all, college athletics would not exist without the “college” part, education at a higher education institution. Classroom support remains key.

    Tennessee Vols find success in the classroom as well as on courts, fields and tracks. Take a look back at Vols successful in both roles in “This Week in UT Sports History.”

    July 25, 2003

    Just as players can earn All-American status for their prowess in gameplay, student-athletes can earn recognition for their academic work. In 2003, the SEC led the nation in Verizon Academic All-Americans with 17 on the first team. The College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) select players from 12 sports including football, women’s volleyball, women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball, and track and field/cross country.

    Three Vols earned academic All-American: Michael Burton of Swimming & Diving, Kacey Montgomery of Rowing, and Kara Lawson of women’s basketball. Lawson, recently named head coach at Duke University, played for the Lady Vols from 1999 to 2003. She graduated from the Haslam College of Business (then called the College of Business Administration) in 2003 with a degree in Finance.

    The point guard from Alexandria, Virginia, considered Duke in her college selection, but wanting to someday coach herself, she decided to learn from the best. Lawson committed to play for legendary head coach Pat Summitt at Tennessee. During her time at UT, the Vols earned a record of 136-17. She led her team to four SEC titles and an SEC Tournament title on the way to three NCAA Final Four appearances (runners-up in 2000 and 2003, third place 2002).

    She earned All-American status for her play on the court in 2003 (WBCA) and earned second-team All-America status from the Associated Press the same year. When her collegiate career ended, she stood at fourth on the all-time scorers list with 1,950 points. The university recognized her as a 2003 Torchbearer, the highest distinction for a UT student.

    She joined Peyton Manning in the 2019 Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame class. However, her career extends well beyond Tennessee. Before serving as an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics last season, she also served as an announcer and analyst for men’s and women’s basketball at ESPN. In 2007, she became the first woman to work as a national broadcast analyst for an NBA game (Washington Wizards vs. New Orleans Hornets, Jan. 12). The former WNBA player also won a gold medal on the 2008 Olympic Team alongside fellow Lady Vols Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker.

    July 25, 2012

    Speaking of Catchings, Parker, and the Olympics, this time eight years ago, both women geared up for the 2012 games in London. The NCAA Champions and gold medalists started all five exhibition games for the USA Women’s National Team that summer. They hoped their preparation would lead to the fifth-consecutive gold medal for the US. Catchings already held two, from 2004 and 2008, while Parker earned her first in 2008.

    Catchings and Parker both averaged 8.8 points per game and 46 percent shooting in exhibition play. The former picked up 3.4 steals per game, evident of her hunger for another international victory.

    “We’re not there to have a good time,” Catchings told her teammates. “We’re on a mission. Operation Gold is our mission. We need to stay focused when we’re on the court practicing or even off the court – making sure we’re not walking around a lot.”

    The U.S. first would face Croatia in London. Catchings, Parker, and company won the exhibition game against Croatia on July 21, 109-55. Parker, who averaged 6.8 rebounds per exhibition game (two better than Catchings), looked forward to the festivities her teammate hoped would not distract the team.

    “I’m very excited,” Parker said. “The craziness is going to happen over the next few days where we have stuff other than basketball dealing with the Olympics, but it’s a really good feeling to be so close.”

    Olympic play kicked off with five preliminary games before the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals slated for Aug. 7-11 that year. The U.S. ultimately took home the gold.

    July 23, 2007

    Vol athletes past and present often engage in international play during the summer. In 2007, Lady Vol volleyball players Mindy Flynn and Leah Hinkey traveled through Europe with the USA/BIP Development Team. After training with former UT head coach Rob Patrick in Pordenone, Italy, for four days, the twosome made their way to Pula, Croatia, ahead of the European Global Challenge in which they would compete.

    Both players kept journals for fans back home to follow their progress. Flynn, writing from Italy, noted the scrimmages abroad helped the team to mesh as a unit and prep for the upcoming campaign. But, the players had some fun, too.

    “The last two nights we went to Venice, once with the team and once with our families,” Flynn wrote. “The city is so much different than where we are staying. It’s amazing how they built it and that it is still there. The food is amazing, like an Olive Garden times a million!!!”

    In Croatia, she looked forward to hanging out on the beach with the team. That time abroad on the beach would provide a respite. The Lady Vols had serious work to do in Knoxville ahead of the 2007 season. Their schedule opened against No. 1 Nebraska in Lincoln (a match-up they lost, 0-3). Tennessee finished the 2007 campaign with a losing 11-18 record. They would improve to 22-10 the following year.

    Volleyball, which typically opens play the last week of August, will face delays in competition according to the SEC. The conference announced last Tuesday it would postpone start dates for volleyball, soccer, and cross country through at least Aug. 31 as a result of the ongoing public health situation surrounding COVID-19.

    Lexie Little is a journalist from Kingsport, Tennessee, who holds a Bachelor of Communication degree from the University of Tennessee with majors in both Journalism & Electronic Media and French & Francophone Studies. She's a contributor to RTI and writes the weekly column "The Week in UT Sports History." Lexie formerly worked as a feature writer for VIPSEEN Magazine and continues to freelance for various publications as she earns her master's degree from the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.