Boost-Her Club hosts 11 Lady Vol student-athletes

The Lady Vol Boost-Her Club hosted a roundtable discussion with 11 athletes - one from each sport - at its membership meeting Monday. <p>

The athletes offered insight into their sports and answered questions about the benefits of the school's strength and conditioning programs, whether they see any sights when they travel, and which team they really like to beat. Nearly all mentioned strength and conditioning coaches Heather Mason and Collin Schlosser as difference-makers.

The Tennessee athletes in attendance were: Jessica Blevins (swimming); Holly Cantwell (golf); Nicole Cook (cross country); McKenzie Craig (rowing); Sarah Fekete (softball); Brittany Fulmer (diving); Julie Kyntych (volleyball); Toyin Olupona (track & field); Melissa Schaub (tennis); Sidney Spencer (basketball); and Talia Wright (soccer).

Each athlete had the opportunity to talk and answer questions from Boost-Her club members. Here are some of their remarks.

Jessica Blevins, senior, swimming, sprint freestyle, College of Arts & Sciences, Bluefield, W.Va.

Blevins noted that the team finished seventh at the SEC Swimming Championships, which was lower than the team had hoped but which was offset by several performances, including the team breaking eight school records at the event. Blevins was in on two of those. Belvins, Christine Magnuson (Tinley Park, Ill.), Abbi Terveer (Lima, Ohio) and Megan Tomes (Cincinnati, Ohio), broke the mark in the 200y freestyle relay, which had stood since 1992. The same foursome took down the standard in the 400y free relay to take fourth place and erase a mark that had stood since 1993.

"It was a really outstanding season," Blevins said.

Team to beat: "We really don't like Auburn," but she also cited the fans at Florida as a reason to beat the Gators.

Holly Cantwell, sophomore, golf, exercise science/business major, Morristown, Tenn.

In the fall, Cantwell shot a career-low score of 220 en route to her first career top-10 finish at the Mercedes-Benz Women's Collegiate Championships and led the tournament after the first day after shooting a career-best round of 69.

Cantwell noted the golf team had two seasons - fall and spring - and "we're hoping for a really strong season." The golf team is ranked No. 11, and several members are participating this week in the Arizona Wildcat Invitational in Tucson.

"We always make it a point to go see something fun and see a different part of the country," Cantwell said.

Team to beat: "It changes from week to week (depending on national rankings). Any team in the SEC, mostly Auburn."

Nicole Cook, senior, cross country, social work, Petersburg, Va.

In 2003, Cook was the NCAA and SEC champ indoors in the 800 meters and was seventh at the U.S. Olympic Trials. In 2004, Cook was the team MVP for Indoor Track & Field and an All-American. The 2004 track & field squad had fourth- and seventh-place NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships, respectively, and also won the SEC and NCAA South Region titles for cross country in fall 2004.

Cook said she was sold on Tennessee during her recruiting visit - "I had a nice time with the team" - and because of the fact UT competes in the SEC. She also cited academics and tradition as a factor in her decision.

"There are a lot of great women athletes that go to UT," Cook said.

As far as sightseeing, "We went to California, and I still haven't seen anything," she said. "I saw Alcatraz as we were driving."

As far as Schlosser, Cook said, "The first week he was there I was crying. He keeps pushing us and pushing us."

Team to beat: Arkansas

McKenzie Craig, senior, rowing, early childhood education, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Craig was a contributing member of the top Championship Eight shell, earning gold medals at the Chattanooga Head Race and the Head of the Tennessee. She also helped her shell to gold in the Championship Four, also at the Head of the Tennessee.

Craig said team highlights were beating the Canadian national team during her career and the team's NCAA berth. The sport also has fall (long distance) and spring (sprint races) seasons, and the team's goal is to get three boats qualified for the NCAA championships in Sacramento. Calif., this year.

She credits the recent success to a "different team mentality" of not settling for lesser results.

Team to beat: Virginia (best in crew).

Sarah Fekete, junior, softball, centerfielder, early childhood education, Maryville, Tenn.

The softball team is off to a 13-0 start and ranked No. 7 in the country. Its home opener is a double-header against Marshall on Wednesday beginning at 2 p.m. at Tyson Park. The team has opened the season with tournaments wins in Florida, Nevada and Georgia. After the two-game homestand, the team heads to the Palms Springs Classic in California to take on some of the top teams in the nation.

"We should find out how good we really are," Fekete said.

As for Schlosser, Fekete said, "I thought he was the devil. Our team thought about changing our name to track and field we ran so much. (But) we're in so much better shape than the team we're playing."

Team to beat: Georgia and Auburn. (The Auburn rivalry took on more meaning after a pitcher hit two UT players in the head, leaving them both with concussions.)

Brittany Fulmer, sophomore, diving, speech communication, Maryville, Tenn.

Fulmer, the daughter of UT football coach Phillip Fulmer, earned a top-five finish against Kentucky in her first collegiate competition.

"I came to Tennessee because I've been here my whole life," Fulmer said.

The diving squad was hampered by injury going into the SEC Championships and competed with Fulmer and freshman Lauren LeRoy. LeRoy finished 15th in her first-ever competition in platform diving. Fulmer finished in 17th place in the one-meter event, which was eight places higher than her freshman year.

"The biggest thing we see is the pool," Fulmer said. "We don't get to see much."

Team to beat: "I'm a little biased. Anything in the SEC. Auburn. I just don't like anybody."

Julie Knytych, junior, volleyball, setter, French major with English minor, LaGrange Park, Ill.

The volleyball team had its best season ever after advancing to a regional semifinal in the NCAA Tournament. The squad finished as regular season co-champions in the SEC and SEC Tournament champions. A season highlight was beating Florida at home, the first team to do so since 1990.

"We beat Florida for the first time in a long time," Knytych said. "All around it was a great season. We're getting strong and getting ready to play in the fall."

Team to beat: "I don't like any team I play against," but Florida, because "I hated Florida before I came here."

Toyin Olupona, senior, track & field, sprinter, political science, Orillia, Ontario, Canada.

The track team is ranked fourth in the nation and off to a strong start. Olupona matched her school and facility records in the 55-meter dash, and teammate Tianna Madison joined her with an NCAA automatic qualifying mark in the short sprint at the Tennessee Indoor Classic on Friday.

Olupona, the 2004 NCAA runner-up in the short sprint, flew down the Stokely Athletics Center straightaway in a time of 6.74, equaling the UT and track marks she set Feb. 20, 2004. Her mark, which ranks No. 2 in the nation, guarantees her a berth in the NCAA Championship meet in Fayetteville, Ark., on March 11-12.

"We are doing extremely well," Olupona said. "We have great coaches, great attitude."

Olupona credited the coaching staff headed by J.J. Clark for the team's recent success.

"We had a great recruiting class and a different coaching staff three years ago that turned the program around," Olupona said.

Olupona, Cook's track mate, said Schlosser hung up inspirational quotes in the weight room, and that boosted spirits.

Team to beat: South Carolina, because of ongoing rivalry with its freshman class.

Melissa Schaub, junior, tennis, psychology, Lexington, Ohio.

The team is ranked 19th in the country and has won five straight matches, all against Top 50 opponents. Schaub was a freshman All-American and then suffered a shoulder injury her sophomore season. She is competing in singles and doubles (No. 1) this spring and is off to a strong start.

Schaub said this group is "the hardest working team I've ever been a part of."

Team to beat: Florida ("They're so good all the time."), Georgia and in-state rival Vanderbilt.

Sidney Spencer, sophomore, basketball, forward, sports management, Hoover, Ala.

"I came to Tennessee so I could play for Pat Summitt," said Spencer, who also cited the SEC and fan support as factors in her decision.

The team is ranked No. 5 in the country and has its last regular season home game on Thursday.

"We're doing pretty good," Spencer said.

When the team played in Oklahoma during last year's NCAA Tournament, Spencer said the team went to Oklahoma City to see the memorials for the bombing victims at the federal building.

As far as conditioning, Spencer said, "We've got Heather Mason. That lady is crazy. You get to a point where you can't do anything else, and that's when you start working. She puts all her heart and soul into it."

Team to beat: "Everybody thinks UConn. I really don't like LSU right now."

Talia Wright, junior, soccer, defender, exercise science, Chattanooga, Tenn.

"I came here because I knew it was a growing program," Wright said of her coach.

The soccer team compiled a 17-5-2 overall record in 2004, won both the SEC Eastern Division and regular-season titles and advanced to a third-consecutive NCAA Sweet 16. A slew of new freshmen will join the team next year, a "rebuilding year," Wright noted, that has the team excited.

Wright noted that coach Angela Kelly played at North Carolina - long recognized as one of the best programs ever - and also played with soccer stalwart Mia Hamm.

"She's helped us get more and better players," Wright said.

There will be a practice game this Saturday against Purdue at 3 p.m. at the Soccer Complex off Neyland Drive.

Team to beat: Florida, because "I don't like them at all."

The next Boost-Her Club meeting will be April 18, when Heather Mason will address the group. The meetings are held in the Ray Mears Room at Thompson-Boling Arena. Information about joining the club and/or making donations can be found on this site under 'Women's Basketball Links' and at www.Boost-Her.com

The Boost-Her Club offers supports to Lady Vol athletics and helps fund scholarships for athletes.


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