This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Temperatures took a turn for the moderate this weekend as the South entered the first weekend of September. Though summer will linger a few more weeks, the hint of a breeze reminded many fans that fall and football fast approach. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tennessee scheduled a home game against Charlotte on Sept. 5. Though that game failed to happen because of a delayed start date and implementation of a conference-only schedule, players eligible for practice took to the field with head coach Jeremy Pruitt on Saturday.
Pruitt cancelled a scheduled scrimmage, as 44 players could not attend following positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing indicators. Instead, Pruitt and staff worked with the team on fundamentals, technique and game play details ahead of their first game on the road against South Carolina on Sept. 26.
Labor Day typically marks a weekend full of football conversations as the season gets under way, recapping games and debating calls and predicting the results of position battles. However, like all moments in 2020, this Labor Day feels different. This year, fans and analysts continue to debate the likelihood and safety of a Southeastern Conference football season, though other leagues have played their first games or prepare to play this weekend.
While Vol Nation awaits the planned season, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at fall sports this week in UT sports history:
Sept. 9, 1989
West Coast, best coast? The Vols thought not. Tennessee traveled to face UCLA following a 17-14 win against Colorado State at home to commence the 1989 season. The men in orange and white took down the Bruins, 24-6, in the second of what would be five consecutive wins. The headline in the Los Angeles Times read, “It’s a Tennessee Waltz Over UCLA” as Jerry Crowe recapped the first game post-Troy Aikman for the California powerhouse.
“Is there life after Troy?” Crowe asked.
“Not on this night.”
Tennessee took down the No. 6 team at the Rose Bowl, going up 24-0 in the third quarter. Head coach Johnny Majors knew offense would win the day, but he failed to realize just how prepared his offense stood to take a commanding lead in a big win early in the season. Quarterback Sterling Henton led the Vols on a 90-yard, 15-play drive to get the Big Orange going on its third drive of the game, and Tennessee rolled to victory from then on.
“They were a faster, quicker, more physical team and gave us a real beating,” UCLA head coach Terry Donahue said. “I was surprised at the way we were manhandled physically.”
Tennessee’s physicality led to an 11-1 season in 1989, only losing to rival Alabama on the road. The SEC co-champions beat Arkansas, 31-27, in the Cotton Bowl to end the season, Majors’ 13th as head coach and offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer’s first in that role.
The 2020 Vols face South Carolina on the road to begin the season. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
Sept. 8, 2006
Though football largely takes center stage in the fall, Tennessee Volleyball boasts impressive program wins. One such win came for the No. 12 Lady Vols in 2006, when they handed Pittsburgh its first loss of the season in four sets at the Pitt Invitational: 28-30, 30-23, 30-27, 30-19.
Following strong offseason conditioning, senior Sarah Blum posted 22 kills and 34 attacks, also adding seven blocks. Two players earned double-doubles in the win, junior Yuliya Stoyanova (18 kills and 15 digs) and senior Kelsey Fautsch (16 kills and 17 digs).
Head coach Rob Patrick praised his elder players’ leadership on the court.
“One of the things that we were really hoping for this season was for [Blum] to take on a more prominent role in our offense,” Patrick told utsports.com. “She has been a great defender for us the last three years, and I was pleased that we were able to set her along different areas of the net where she could…get kills for us tonight. Her attacking directly led to the terrific offensive performances from Yuliya and Kelsey.”
After dropping a close first frame, the Lady Vol attack power emerged and set the tone for the rest of the day. Following back-and-forth battles resulting in deadlocks, like 10 and 15 all in the second set, the one-loss Lady Vols picked up match win number six on the season. Tennessee went on to win the tournament title following sweeps of Marshall and Lehigh.
The 2006 Lady Vols finished the season 19-12 (10-10 SEC) in a rebuilding year. They had come off of a 25-9 (13-3 SEC) season and appearance in the NCAA Final Four in 2005. The SEC has yet to announce plans for the 2020 volleyball season.
Sept. 8, 2006
On the same day the Lady Vols picked up a win against Pitt, Tennessee’s cross country team opened its season with a second place finish at the 5K UTC Invitational in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Tennessee runners placed sixth, ninth, 11th, 13th and 21st to give the Vols the second spot with a team score of 60 behind rival Alabama (22).
Alabama claimed the top four spots and 12th spot to easily separate itself from the other schools including UT, UT-Chattanooga, Samford, Auburn, Lipscomb and Middle Tennessee State University.
Denton Jones held the fastest time for Tennessee. The sixth-place finisher came in at 15:54, 49 seconds off first place finisher Emmanuel Bor. Each of Tennessee’s nine runners finished within one minute of Jones’ time, the last being Steve Tobin at 16:41. Jones sat out the 2005 season, but his 2006 return made a mark on the team as he scored in four of Tennessee’s six races.
The Vols had made an NCAA national championship appearance in 2005. In 2006, they finished fourth in the SEC and South Regional championships. As in volleyball, the SEC has yet to announce 2020 season plans other than previously announced pandemic precautions for health and safety.