Lady Vols earn weekend off

The Lady Vols wrapped up their fifth consecutive practice Friday and ninth in 10 days with an up-tempo session from start to finish. It ended with lots of smiles because the players have this entire weekend to themselves.

Ariel Massengale missed the majority of the 10-day stretch, which began Oct. 12, after suffering a concussion on Oct. 10 in a collision with Cierra Burdick. Massengale was allowed to participate in a few drills on Thursday and Friday but none involving any potential contact.

Her fellow freshman – or "freshmates" as Burdick calls the three newcomers, including Isabelle Harrison – was happy to see her roommate getting closer to being back full-time on the court.

The coaching staff installed quite a bit of specifics on offense and defense with a good part of Friday being spent on assorted schemes to bring pressure. The Lady Vols have several athletic and rangy defenders – and the three freshmen have held their own – and want to assert more influence on the outcome on the defensive end of the floor this season.

The Lady Vols should have 10 players on the court next week. Massengale was doing much better in the latter part of this week and senior guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen, who missed Friday's practice because of a family funeral in her home state of Arkansas, will be back. Taber Spani returned on Wednesday after missing the first two weeks of preseason practice to recover from elbow surgery.

The two days off were well earned – this week the players also had photo day, filmed pre-game introductions for the Jumbotron and had early morning conditioning sessions, along with one 6 a.m. practice – and the coaches expressed their happiness with the team's progress.

"I am looking forward to it," Burdick said. "My mom is coming in and my little brother is coming in (from North Carolina). They are coming to see me, and I am just so stoked. I am missing my family big time. I am not as bad as Rel, but it's setting in for me, and I am just happy to see my mom and my little brother."

Rel refers to Ariel Massengale, and she has spoken about missing her parents, who live in Bolingbrook, Ill. The family is originally from Middle Tennessee and hope to return to the state at some point. Burdick planned to use social media to rally moral support for Massengale, who has been somewhat isolated while recovering from her concussion.

"I told her I am going to give a shout-out on Twitter," Burdick said. "She is trying to get her followers up so I said I would help her out and tell her I am glad to have her back on the court."

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