Lady Vols look to create new legacy in volleyball

Create a New Legacy.

That is the motto of the young Tennessee volleyball team, which will look to rebound from a 19-12 season — the first season in which the Lady Vols failed to notch at least 20 wins since 2001.

A new legacy is desired by the Lady Vols with the success of the 2005 class — a group that helped the team post a 32-3 mark in 2004 and make the NCAA Final Four for the first time in school history in 2005 — more than a full year behind this year’s crop.

Leading the way is a group of seven sophomores, who entered Stokely Athletic Center one year ago as a top-10 recruiting class.

“I can’t say enough good things about those seven sophomores,” Lady Vols coach Rob Patrick said. “I think not only this year but the future of our program, is in really good hands because of, not only how good of volleyball players they are, but what type of people they are.”

Helping guide the group of seven and two freshmen will be an experienced couple of seniors and a trio of dependable juniors.

Senior outside hitter Yuliya Stoyanova, one of the more decorated players for the Lady Vols, enters 2007 slightly hindered by the effects of knee surgery during the latter portion of last season. Despite tearing her anterior cruciate ligament two-thirds of the way through the 2006 campaign, Stoyanova still was named honorable mention on the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America Team as well as the All-SEC Second Team.

Patrick, who is entering his 11th season with the Lady Vols, said Stoyanova’s continued recovery is the only glitch in one of the best physically fit teams he has seen at UT.

“We are in the best physical shape that Tennessee volleyball has ever been in,” Patrick said. “(And) this is possibly the most talented and athletic team that we’ve ever had. There are a lot of things that we can gang our hat on that will help us be successful this season.”

Junior Mindy Flynn said the team, which was on campus together throughout the summer, took part in lifting routines, extra running and even played some sand volleyball to improve jumping and quickness.

“We worked really hard all through the spring and summer, and I’m excited to see how it turned out,” Flynn said.

She will have a chance to see those benefits immediately, as the Lady Vols will need to be in top form right out of the gates against defending national champions and No. 1 ranked Nebraska in the season opener tonight at the American Volleyball Coaches Association Showcase at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.

“I’m so excited to play them,” junior outside hitter Milan Clarke said. “I’ve been looking forward to the match since the schedule came out.”

Win or lose, the Lady Vols will face either Utah or UCLA the following day — both are Top 25 teams.

Although a tough loss early in the year could deflate some of the team’s momentum, Patrick said the challenging schedule was slated to give his players a shot at the best.

“When these players come to the University of Tennessee to play volleyball, they come here to play the top teams in the country,” he said. “We have the third toughest conference, but out of it too, we’re not going to back down from anybody.

“I think it’s great to play the top teams in the country because it gives the young ladies an idea of what it takes to play at that level.”

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