Lady Vols to open exhibition play

The Lady Vols open the season Thursday with an exhibition against Carson-Newman, and it should be a good chance for the freshmen to log a lot of minutes. Go inside with Inside Tennessee to get ready for the game.

Head coach Holly Warlick said this week that she hadn't determined a starting lineup and the five players who take the floor tonight against Carson-Newman – 7 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena with free webcast at All Access – might not be the same as those who start Sunday in the second exhibition game against Coker.

Tennessee could start five returning players with Ariel Massengale, Meighan Simmons, Taber Spani, Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison.

But Massengale, who scrimmaged last weekend, is being treated for tendinitis in her left Achilles, and she will likely be held out of Thursday's exhibition to rest.

Juco sophomore Jasmine Phillips already is sidelined with a left quad injury that occurred outside of basketball workouts. She remains day to day and said this week that she hoped to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Massengale is expected to be good to go by the official opener on Nov. 9 at Chattanooga and resting her this week was deemed precautionary and practical.

The sophomore point guard from Bolingbrook, Ill., was thrust into the starting role as a freshman – that has been the case of late with Tennessee from the now-departed Shekinna Stricklen to junior Meighan Simmons – and has earned praise from the coaches for her maturation going into her second year.

Massengale is more vocal this preseason than a year ago and more familiar with the system. Warlick singled out Massengale for praise at SEC Media Day last week in Hoover, Ala., and again this week in Knoxville at the local media day.

"I asked Ariel Massengale to step up this year and be more vocal and I think she's accepted that challenge," Warlick said. "She has been outstanding for us. It's key for our veterans to give (the newcomers) a blueprint of how we want things done and it's up to them to help us get there."

Massengale, despite just starting her sophomore season, is considered a veteran on this young squad. She struggled as a freshman with a serious case of being homesick and has put that behind her now.

"It's a lot easier in year two," she said.

Massengale attended first session last summer and then went home in July. She noticed a difference in August when she returned to Tennessee – she was happy to back.

"I thought going home second session it was going to be difficult to come back," she said. "It was huge because I thought it was going to be really difficult. But I got here and got back with my teammates and remembered how much fun we have and getting back in the gym and working out, starting school and a new year, a new staff, new excitement, same program. It is a lot of fun."

Massengale also could move out of the dorm in her second year and chose an on-campus apartment that offers a lot more privacy but remains close to academic buildings and athletic facilities.

"And then you're older and you know what to expect," she said. "You know what it's like being away from home, and you just take it day by day. You are so busy that when you do call your parents, you say, ‘Hey, I am so tired, I am going to bed.' "

Massengale was hindered at times last season by injury – she sustained a serious concussion and missed most of October and then a major hand injury and was out nearly the entire month of December – and was trying to adjust to the tempo of college basketball. The injuries also cut into her conditioning workouts, and she spent the season in catch-up mode.

The coaches have noted her improved fitness in preseason, and they also have noticed her willingness to speak up in practice.

"I have a lot of responsibility," Massengale said. "I wouldn't say it's any more than what I had last year, but just in a different area. I got a lot of playing time last year, so I have some experience and some advice to tell to the new ones about what to expect and what it's going to be like.

"And still being the point guard, being the coach on the floor and knowing what Holly wants and how she wants this team to be run and how she wants things to be this year, I am trying to go out there and portray what she wants and be like her on the basketball court."

Massengale also has shown a willingness to teach the Lady Vol system to freshman Andraya Carter, who will be the backup point guard in addition to playing off the ball.

"I think Draya is going to help us tremendously just with her athleticism," Massengale said. "She is one of the most athletic players I've ever known play the game. She can help us out from that standpoint – being quick, able to get down the floor and run and defend and everything that the coaches want us to do."

The Lady Vols want to play an up-tempo style this season, but Thursday may not be the game to gauge their readiness if just nine players are in uniform.

Even with Massengale doubtful for the game, the coaches could opt for a veteran lineup at The Opening tip or toss a freshman or two onto the court since the exhibition game is primarily to get them prepared for game flow and to acquire film for study purposes.

Freshman Bashaara Graves would be a likely candidate to be in the paint, and Carter the first freshman choice for the perimeter. Regardless of who is on the floor for tipoff, all nine players on the roster should log double digits in minutes.

Even if Massengale was given the green light tonight, Carter was likely to see significant playing time. Assistant coach Dean Lockwood has been sold on the freshman guard since preseason workouts and knew she would compete for game minutes.

"No doubt, no doubt, no doubt," Lockwood said. "Andraya can play point and off guard. She is a true combo guard. She can help us at a wing, but she can definitely get some minutes at point.

"She, right now, is in very good shape. Her conditioning level, there is no one I don't think in the guard group that is ahead of her. She is right up there with anybody and because of that – and her intelligence – she will definitely push for some of those minutes."

GET A PROGRAM: The Lady Vols have a roster of 11 with five players putting on a uniform for the first time at Tennessee.

There also are two new coaches in Kyra Elzy and Jolette Law, a new special assistant to the head coach in Janet McGee, a new director of basketball operations in Michael Beaumont and a new graduate assistant in Josh Baney, who may look familiar to some fans as he is quite tall and used to be a practice player. Dean Lockwood will be a familiar face for all.

The biggest change, of course, is in the head coach chair, which Holly Warlick slides into for her first season after 27 years at the side of Pat Summitt. Her record is listed in the Lady Vol game notes as 0-0, a stark contrast to the four-digit win totals that appeared beside the name of Summitt, who is now head coach emeritus and will sit in the stands this season.

CARSON-NEWMAN INFO: The Lady Eagles opened the exhibition season at North Carolina – Tar Heel coach Sylvia Hatchell has ties to the East Tennessee school – and lost 106-29 on Sunday.

The starters for that game were: Whitney Moody, a 5-10 forward from Blountville, Tenn., who played at Sullivan Central High School; Courdne Miles, a 5-11 senior forward from Burlington, N.C.; Lashawnda Peacher, a 5-8 sophomore guard from Springfield, Tenn., who played at Springfield High School; Shyra Brown, a 5-9 junior guard/forward from Cleveland, Tenn., who transferred from Austin Peay; and Jai Jai McLaughlin, a 5-5 freshman from Knoxville, who played at Bearden High School, the alma mater of Holly Warlick, who just had her No. 22 jersey retired by the school.

Nikki James, a 6-0 forward from Cookeville, Tenn., logged significant minutes off the bench.

The Lady Eagles are coached by Mike Mincey, who is in his second season at the Jefferson City school. Carson-Newman competes in the South Atlantic Conference and opens the season Saturday at East Tennessee State after the two exhibition games against North Carolina and Tennessee.

"They are always difficult games, in that you usually will take a loss to them (Tennessee and North Carolina)," Mincey said when the schedule was released. "But our girls really enjoy the Carolina trip because we get to have the ACC experience, a full trip.

"The environment of playing at Tennessee is somewhat intimidating, but I think the girls go into it thinking it will be very tough, but at the end of the experience they are glad to have the chance to play at Thompson-Boling Arena."

SMART SENIORS: Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams already have their college degrees.

Spani earned her bachelor's degree in communication studies in August and is taking graduate classes in kinesiology with a concentration in sports psychology and motor behavior.

Williams earned a bachelor's degree in sociology/criminal justice last May and is working on a second undergraduate degree in psychology.

Every basketball player that completed her eligibility at Tennessee has left school with a degree, and the two seniors keep the Lady Vols graduation rate perfect at 100 percent.

LADY VOL HOOPS CENTRAL: Tennessee's website has a game-day central page with game notes, in-game blog and other info that can be accessed by CLICKING HERE.


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