No Surprise Tennessee Favored Again

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Tennessee, a 52-50 winner over LSU in the women's NCAA Tournament semifinals last April, outdid the Lady Tigers once again in the Southeastern Conference Media Days preseason poll released Thursday.

The Lady Vols, who lost 70-61 to Connecticut in the NCAA finals last season, received nine first-place votes to preseason runner-up LSU's two in media voting.

Vanderbilt, last season's SEC Tournament winner, was picked third ahead of Georgia, despite the fact that the Lady Bulldogs have been ranked in the top five of most national surveys and have four guards on the first two preseason All-SEC teams.

"I can't imagine why we were picked ahead of Georgia," said Vandy women's coach Melanie Balcomb.

Auburn, under new coach Nell Fortner, was picked fifth, followed by Florida. Ole Miss and Mississippi State tied for seventh, while Arkansas and Alabama tied for ninth. Kentucky was predicted to finish 11th and South Carolina 12th.

Seimone Augustus of LSU was projected as SEC Player of the Year, and joined teammate Temeka Johnson on the All-SEC Team along with guard Tan White of Mississippi State and forwards Shyra Ely of Tennessee and Carla Thomas of Vanderbilt.

Arkansas guard Rochelle Vaughn said the silliest thing she was asked by a TV reporter on Thursday was her least-favorite Christmas carol.

"I said 'Jingle Bells,' but I actually like it," Vaughn said. "Then they made me sing it. I couldn't think of any carols I didn't like."

Vaughn said she and her younger sister Brittney of Plano, Texas, communicate so well on the court together as Lady Razorbacks "because we're sisters, and we played together two years in high school."

LSU coach Pokey Chatman said Sue Gunter, whom she succeeded as Lady Tigers head coach, is feeling better these days after a long illness.

"Sue has a severe bronchial infection, but she's doing fine," Chatman said. "I tell her that her social life is picking up. Sue still takes an interest in our program. She's not a busybody who comes to practice every other day, but she has 40 years of experience and I'm smart enough to utilize it."

Michelle Marciniak, nicknamed "Spinderella" when she was leading Tennessee to the 1996 national title, hasn't lost her zest for the game as an assistant coach at South Carolina.

"We have a men's practice player named Joey who tried out for the South Carolina men's team," said Gamecocks coach Susan Walvius. "The other day, Michelle jumped into a drill and kicked him out because she said she could do it better."

UT coach Pat Summitt, who reduces her stress level by working out a lot and reading on the beach, also likes to visit her parents' farm in Tennessee.

"My folks put up corn, green beans and tomato juice," Summitt said Wednesday. "They said, 'You've gotta be here this week; we're putting up 1,000 ears of corn.' So I helped them."

But now that she's back in work mode, her assistant coaches are on notice.

"We have four sets of eyes," Summitt said. "Each assistant coach takes home a video of some aspect of practice each night, and then we all four discuss everything before the next practice."

That attention to detail is partly how you win six national championships. Recruiting great players helps, too.

Fortner, who has served as an analyst on women's basketball telecasts the last several years, credited former Arkansas and current Texas A&M coach Gary Blair with starting her in the college coaching profession.

"Gary hired me as his graduate assistant at Stephen F. Austin," Fortner recalled. "I stayed there four years and learned a lot from him. He was a tremendous teacher and a hard worker."

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