Kayla Jeter back for tough Lady Vols volleyball opener

Kayla Jeter

Kayla Jeter

Whenever an athlete has to recover from a serious injury, there are mile markers along the journey.

For Tennessee volleyball player Kayla Jeter and her surgically repaired knee, a big one was in March when she passed the test in the team's intense jump training sessions.

"I screamed (for joy) in the weight room,'' she said. "Best day ever.''

Then came the summer. She was able to make some complex moves during play on the court.

"That's when I felt I was all the way back,'' she said.

Finally, there is tonight.

Exactly 370 days after Jeter tore the ACL in her left knee, she'll be in the lineup when No. 15 UT opens the Comcast Lady Vol Classic at Thompson-Boling Arena.

It's been a long road back since the practice injury that wiped out her 2011 season. But her rehab was rendered imminently more tolerable by the fact that her team closed ranks without her and won the program's first outright SEC title with a 19-1 conference record.

"That made it tons easier,'' Jeter said. "Everyone stepped it up and played great.''

Now Jeter, a 2010 All-SEC first-teamer, is back and so is everyone else of note from the championship season.

That includes SEC player of the year Kelsey Robinson, All-SEC first-teamers DeeDee Harrison and Leslie Cikra and SEC freshman of the year, setter Mary Pollmiller.

The Lady Vols aren't backing into the season. The Classic field includes No. 10 Iowa State and No. 12 Florida State, along with Cincinnati.

Tonight, Iowa State plays Cincinnati at 5, followed by UT-Florida State at 7.

The Lady Vols play Cincinnati at 10 a.m. Saturday and finish the round-robin format against Iowa State at 7:30 p.m.

All four teams won at least 25 games last year. FSU reached the NCAA tournament Final Four by beating Iowa State in the Elite Eight round.

The Lady Vols won't sneak up on anyone after a 28-4 season. But Jeter acknowledges there is unfinished business related to the program failing to get past the NCAA tournament second round the past couple of years.

"I wouldn't say we feel like an underdog,'' Jeter said, "but still feel like we have something to prove.''

Which she predicts they will do.

Pollmiller and fellow freshmen Tiffany Baker, Shealyn Kolosky and Nikki Brice were forced into extensive action without the benefit of an offseason training regimen. Fatigue showed at the end of the season.

"This spring we took the time to get really strong,'' Jeter said, "so that would never be an excuse again.''

Tournament Notes: Admission is $1 tonight, $3 Saturday. The first 750 fans tonight get SEC championship T-shirts. Admission is free Saturday with two school supply items.

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