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This Week in UT Sports History – Aug. 24th-30th

Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

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

The schedule: set. Season ticket options: outlined. COVID-19 tests: positive for 23 football players at the University of Tennessee since June. With a positive test rate “slightly under 2%” since weekly screenings commenced, head coach Jeremy Pruitt and staff hope to keep players healthy and avoid spread in Tennessee’s facilities ahead of the first game against South Carolina on Sept. 26.

The Southeastern Conference announced its conference-only football schedule last Monday. Tennessee opens its season on the road in Columbia, South Carolina, before the home opener against Missouri on Oct. 3. Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer announced he anticipates Neyland Stadium to operate at around 25% capacity, which would allow around 25,000 fans to attend. Season ticket holders retain the choice to attend games in varying seats or choose from other options including rolling over ticket renewal to 2021.

However, the SEC has yet to announce dates for volleyball, soccer and cross-country competitions, though health guidelines for all remain in place for testing, distancing and mask use.

Last season, Tennessee Volleyball opened play on Aug. 24 in an exhibition victory against High Point. This week in UT sports history, Rocky Top Insider looks back at another early volleyball win and more:

Aug. 25, 2012

The Lady Vols, ranked 15th in the country, picked up an early season win against Cincinnati on the second day of the Comcast Lady Vol Classic in Knoxville. The 3-1 (25-12, 23-25, 25-19, 25-14) win came at the hands of three Lady Vols who registered double-digit kills in the matchup.

Kelsey Robinson, a junior outside hitter, earned her 28th career double-double with 14 kills and 12 digs. She stood just behind defensive leader Ellen Mullins who lunged for 14 digs. Senior Leslie Cikra and sophomore Tiffany Baker both picked up 10 kills of their own.

Baker kicked off a dominant streak for the Lady Vols. With five kills in the opening set, she hit a perfect 1.000 (6-of-6) in the first frame to give Tennessee a quick 25-12 win. Overall, she hit .529 for the match with just one error. She also performed well defensively with seven digs.

“I was really happy with how we played today,” then head coach Rob Patrick said. “We made some adjustments and learned from some of the things we did yesterday.”

The previous day, Tennessee lost 0-3 (25-27, 15-25, 21-25) to #12 Florida State in its opening match. The highest dig total for any player stood at nine for Tennessee’s Ellen Mullins with Robinson again claiming the most kills at 12. However, adjustments on defense based on the close match allowed the Lady Vols to recover against Cincinnati. They would go on to win the next three matches as the 22-8 overall season unfolded.

The 2012 Lady Vols earned a conference record of 15-5 that season. They faced elimination in the first round of the NCAA tournament, losing a close one, 2-3, to Michigan. The next season resulted in a complete 180 from a season prior. The 2013 team finished 1-17 (.056) in the SEC with an overall record of 9-23.

Aug. 28, 2012

Just three days after the Lady Vols picked up the win against Cincinnati, another Lady Vol program celebrated an accolade for its esteemed former head coach. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) announced women’s basketball pioneer Pat Summitt would receive the Billie Jean King Legacy Award, an honor for a courageous individual whose contributions to sports and society advanced diversity, inclusion and equity. The announcement out of Flushing, New York, caused a stir in Tennessee just months following Summitt’s retirement after 38 years at the helm.

In April 2012, Summitt stepped down after 1098 victories and eight national championships. In a stirring speech full of atypical vulnerability for the stoic leader, she expressed gratitude for the players, staff and sport that shaped her career. Summitt received a diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in August 2011.

At the time of her honor, Summitt stood as the all-time leader in wins among NCAA coaches. She paid tribute to King as a friend and example in leadership.

“It’s a special honor to be acknowledged for my beliefs in diversity and equality and I am proud to be a part of the USTA’s commitment to the same. On the 40th anniversary of Title IX, I am especially honored to receive the Billie Jean King Legacy Award,” Summitt said. “Not only is Billie a respected friend and colleague, she’s also a true pioneer. Her efforts on behalf of equality for all have allowed me to coach and mentor some of the world’s greatest female athletes and help numerous women attend college to become great leaders and citizens.”

Summitt’s commitment to academics created a culture of excellence. The Tennessee women’s basketball program maintained a 100% graduation rate during her tenure as head coach. She served as head coach emeritus supporting players and the Lady Vol culture following her retirement. Summitt died on June 28, 2016 at age 64.

Aug. 28, 1951

Columnist Tom Siler took a shot at the magazine greats known for sporting predictions ahead of the 1951 football season. In the Knoxville News-Sentinel, he scoffingly said Tennessee fans could only hope the “slick magazine experts” including the “Big Three,” Grantland Rice, Fred Russell and Francis Wallace, would be more accurate in 1951 than in 1950. All three picked Notre Dame to win it all in 1950. In the AP Final Poll, the Fighting Irish didn’t even crack the top five, with Oklahoma claiming the title.

“Neither [favorites Notre Dame and Stanford] came close when, in late September, the gridders pushed the gaudy clippings to one side and began the autumn battle,” Siler said. “And worse yet, none of the three [reporters] mentioned Oklahoma, the ultimate champion, in the first five selections.”

Each predicted Tennessee to finish in the top five, at either No. 3 or No. 5. The Vols finished fourth in the 1950 polls. In 1951, the “esteemed Southern expert” Fred Russell of the Saturday Evening Post had “Bob Neyland believing the Volunteers [would] be No. 1 when the Post article [appeared],” but Russell predicted Ohio State to win the championship with Tennessee at No. 2.

Russell, of course, was wrong.

Tennessee started No. 1 in the AP Preseason Poll, and there the Vols stayed. The Vols earned the title of consensus national champions with a 10-0 regular season record. Preseason accolades paid off.

As Siler said, “Word must have gotten out somehow that most of these Tennessee stalwarts would be back for the 1951 campaign.” As a result, the Vols took that buzz to heart.

The 2020 team kicks off play on Sept. 26 against South Carolina in Columbia. Time and broadcast information remain pending.

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