Lady Vols sweep top SEC awards

Pat Summitt has reminded her players several times this season that they haven't won anything yet, but that keeps changing as an undefeated SEC slate ended with Tennessee taking player of the year, freshman of the year and coach of the year honors for the first time since 1998.

Shekinna Stricklen got a text message Tuesday from the chief of the Lady Vols media relations department that the SEC Player of the Year needed to contact the office. Stricklen, who was in the final minutes of her class, was elated by the news.

"I was in class and I got a text message from DJ," Stricklen said, referring to Debby Jennings. "She said, ‘When you get out of class can the SEC Player of the Year, please call me.' I was like, ‘Wow.' I was so surprised."

The junior forward from Morrilton, Arkansas, was in her sociology research class.

"It was the end," Stricklen said. "We only had five minutes to go. That last five minutes I really didn't pay attention."

Stricklen also was named to First Team All-SEC, along with Glory Johnson. Johnson, a junior forward from Knoxville also was named to the All-Defensive Team.

Rookie guard Meighan Simmons was selected as the SEC Freshman of the Year and also was named to Second Team All-SEC.

Stricklen said the recognition would not change her approach to the game.

"I don't think it will," Stricklen said. "Just play my game, play my role, bring the energy and being a leader and just stepping up when the team needs it. The team is behind me. They're very encouraging, they've been saying congrats and messing with me. It's been fun."

Coach Pat Summitt had no doubt that Stricklen was deserving of the award, but she didn't know how the vote would play out after the season ended. The awards announced Tuesday by the SEC were the result of the picks of the 12 head coaches in the league.

"You never know with the coaches' vote," Summitt said. "Some people will pick one and some the others. I am really proud. She did a great job."

Summitt also believed that Stricklen's ability to play all over the court likely boosted her resume with the coaches.

"It's her versatility," Summitt said. "It's her leadership. She plays multiple positions as opposed to just one position. It's pretty impressive."

Summitt also saluted the acknowledgment of Simmons' season. The freshman from Cibolo, Texas, came off the bench in her first collegiate game against Louisville and has started ever since.

"Meighan has not played like a freshman for our team and has been an impact player from day one," Summitt said.

The head coach also expressed pride in Johnson's postseason accolades.

"I was really proud of her," Summitt said. "She works so hard and plays within herself."

Summitt pointed to her assistants when asked about her selection as SEC Coach of the Year.

"They're great and what they do day in and day out and hold people accountable it's like having four head coaches," Summitt said. "I think our team has a lot of respect for the entire staff and for Heather (Mason) and what she does and for Jenny (Moshak) and what she does and their staff."

It was the eighth such honor for Summitt, and she laughed out loud when told that junior Alicia Manning said it was a cumulative award for what the junior class had put her through in the first two seasons.

"I like that," Summitt said.

This marks the second time Tennessee has swept the top three conference awards. In 1998, Summitt was named coach of the year, Chamique Holdsclaw was the player of the year and Tamika Catchings was honored as the freshman of the year.

Joining Stricklen and Johnson on the First Team were: Tierney Jenkins, Alabama; Alli Smalley, Auburn; Porsha Phillips, Georgia; Victoria Dunlap, Kentucky; LaSondra Barrett, LSU; and Jence Rhoads, Vanderbilt.

Joining Simmons on the Second Team were: C'eira Ricketts, Arkansas; Sarah Watkins, Arkansas; Jasmine James, Georgia; A'dia Mathies, Kentucky; Kayla Melson, Ole Miss; Mary Kathryn Govero, Mississippi State; and Ieasia Walker, South Carolina.

Joining Simmons on the All-Freshman Squad were: Kaneisha Horn, Alabama; Jaterra Bonds, Florida; Khaalidah Miller, Georgia; Bernisha Pinkett, Kentucky; Valencia McFarland, Ole Miss; Jasmine Lister, Vanderbilt; and Stephanie Holzer, Vanderbilt.

Joining Johnson on the All-Defensive Team were: Jenkins, Alabama; Meredith Mitchell, Georgia; Dunlap, Kentucky; Mathies, Kentucky; and Katherine Graham, LSU.

Dunlap, the 2010 SEC Player of the Year, was selected as the Defensive Player of the Year. Holzer was named the 6th Woman of the Year, and Govero was picked as the Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Tennessee, the top seed in the SEC Tournament, will play Friday at noon Central time (TV: SportSouth) at Bridgestone Arena against the winner of Thursday's Florida-Arkansas game.

The Lady Vols, after taking off Monday, were back at practice Tuesday at Pratt Pavilion and spent the session working on one-on-one defense, offensive execution in the full- and half-court schemes and free throws.

Freshman point guard Lauren Avant remains out under the program's concussion protocol. Redshirt junior center Kelley Cain, who missed the last three games of the regular season to rest a sore hip and lower back, returned to practice Tuesday and participated in most of the session before heading to the sideline for some standard ice packs.

"It's great," Summitt said about having Cain back on the court, and she hoped the 6'6 center could be available for the tourney. "(But) I am not going to push it."

The team will return to practice Wednesday and then leave Thursday for Nashville.

Stricklen smiled when asked about Summitt's repeated statements to the players during the season that they hadn't won anything yet.

"It's happening," Stricklen said.

Stricklen also knows that Summitt is referring to the eight banners that hang in the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena.

"It won't change until we win the big one," Stricklen said.

VIDEO COVERAGE

Clips from Tuesday's practice

Shekinna Stricklen

Meighan Simmons

Alicia Manning


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