Lady Vols fun side emerges in summer

Meighan Simmons smiled and called it tough love after the game. She was referring to the strategic double teams she got from Glory Johnson and Alicia Manning as DeRoyal worked to stay undefeated in the Women's Pilot Rocky Top League by trying to suffocate the sharpshooter. It was partially effective – DeRoyal won, but the sophomore connected on eight treys.

The second day of play in the women's summer league ended with two teams sporting 2-0 records in DeRoyal and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The News Sentinel and Duncan Automotive, the two teams without much of a presence with regard to Lady Vol connections, are 0-2. The other two teams, Smith & Hammaker and Pilot, are 1-1.

Duncan's miscalculation occurred on draft day when the picker didn't select a current Lady Vol, even though Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen, Alicia Manning, Taber Spani, Kamiko Williams and Alyssia Brewer were on the draft board in the first round after Meighan Simmons went first overall, and instead took a guard who played well last summer in the league but missed half of the past season at Kennesaw State with a foot injury and then transferred to Carson-Newman.

Former Lady Vol Faith Dupree, who will play this season at Tennessee-Chattanooga, went to Duncan in the second round and did her part Tuesday evening with 26 points while playing nearly the entire game, but Smith & Hammaker had five players in double figures – Alaina Jordan with 18, Jessica Walter with 14, Stephanie Torrence with 16, Brewer with 13 and Williams with 12 – to take the 83-66 win.

The News Sentinel's team is led by Webb standout Marjorie Butler, who hit five treys and tallied 34 points in the 90-74 loss to FCA. It was late in the second half before FCA could put the News Sentinel away for good. Help is on the way for Butler's team as former Lady Vol Courtney McDaniel, who was busy this week at nationals with her AAU team, will play next week.

FCA relied on the long ball in the last game of the evening as Spani connected on seven from long range with Lenoir City's Tyler Powers hitting six and Stricklen stroking four, including one near the end of the game from about 26 feet.

It was the game in between that really held the attention of a crowd – another good showing even though the league played back-to-back nights at Christian Academy of Knoxville – as DeRoyal had a 20-point lead in the second half, but Pilot managed to climb back with Simmons getting hot in the second half and incoming Lady Vol Isabelle Harrison grabbing a rebound off a missed shot and getting fouled by Johnson to put the freshman on the line with her team down one with 22 seconds left.

Harrison rolled in the first and swished the second to give Pilot an 82-81 lead, but former Lady Vol Dominique Redding drained a trey with 13.6 seconds left for an 84-82 lead – giving her 15 – and Pilot turned the ball over in its last possession to end the game.

The fans in the small gym roared at the outcome of the game and gave the players on both sides a standing ovation when it ended. Among the appreciative observers were Stricklen, who was in the stands waiting for her game to tip, and Williams, who stayed after her game ended.

"I do it for the fans," Stricklen said when asked why she plays in the summer league. "I feel like we have great fans, and we can give back to them in the summer. They can be close to us, come talk to us. At home games they're not really able to get around us. So this allows our fans to come around us and talk to us and get to know us better."

Stricklen and Spani took stints at point guard Tuesday evening, and both made a concerted effort to distribute the ball. In some matchups the Lady Vol players could dominate smaller and younger players but instead they move the ball around and involve teammates. FCA got 18 points from Powers, a high schooler who thrilled the crowd with her long threes.

The crowd also enjoys the banter between the players – especially Lady Vols going against their orange teammates.

Johnson started her smack talk early with Simmons with her loud remarks that "your teammates want to play, too." It was amusing because Simmons had yet to take a shot – she had started the game with setting up a play for a teammate and then finding Harrison inside – and Johnson's strategy was to rattle Simmons into not shooting. It didn't work, but DeRoyal used defense – yes, defense in a summer league – to build a 20-point lead, which it held in both halves.

That led to good-natured disputes over fouls, much to the delight of the crowd, which really got into Pilot's late surge and comeback, which came up just short.

Simmons finished with 37 points and has now made 16 treys in two Rocky Top League games while Harrison, who battled Johnson inside throughout the game, added 12 points for Pilot. Manning led DeRoyal with 25 points – she did most of her work inside – and Johnson tallied 24 points, including a three-pointer that she drained over Simmons, who answered on her end over Johnson minutes later.

"It's great playing against each other in front of our fans and getting to show our personalities and give the fans a great show," Stricklen said.

Play resumes Thursday at CAK beginning at 6 p.m. with Smith & Hammaker, 1-1, vs. DeRoyal, 2-0; Duncan Automotive, 0-2, vs. FCA, 2-0; and the News Sentinel, 0-2, vs. Pilot, 1-1.


Game One: Smith & Hammaker vs. Duncan Automotive

Kamiko Williams

Game Two: DeRoyal vs. Pilot

Glory Johnson and Meighan Simmons

Game Three: Fellowship of Christian Athletes vs. The News Sentinel

Shekinna Stricklen

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