"Being able to have both a guard and a post perspective helps tremendously, because you can't do it by yourself.," Zolman said. "She has helped tremendously with the communication factor and making sure everyone knows what's going on, whether shooting an email or talking to them on the phone or text messages, something where we can get in contact with everybody, whether it's a meeting or some event that we have to go to or practice itself. It's not just my leadership. We're going to lead as a whole."
The loudest endorsement of the job they have done so far is the fact that Summitt is quiet. She hasn't yet had to remind either one that they are seniors in this program or make a plea for leadership. Zolman said she and Fluker have noticed that, for now, they have stayed out of her crosshairs.
"When are we going to get yelled at big-time?" Zolman said they asked each other. "But we haven't had the need to. We've been playing and practicing very well. If we don't have the need, she's not going to yell at us."
The biggest test of the very young season was Wednesday's practice, because it followed a day off. Last year, the team was often sluggish after a day off, which often raised Summitt's ire.
"But we came in great, and that's very pleasing to her," Zolman said. "There's no reason to yell if we're doing OK. We're a lot more advanced right now than we have been in the past."
Zolman is the elder stateswoman on a team that is low on veterans but high on experience. Of 11 players, only four are upperclassmen – the two seniors and two juniors, Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding. Four are sophomores, two are redshirt freshmen in Candace Parker and Alex Fuller, and there is one true freshman.
"We don't have a lot of veteran leadership as far as that goes, but they've been here, they know," Zolman said. "It's one thing to play a lot your freshman year, but it's another thing to have experience for two years plus. It (also) doesn't matter if you play or not, just to have experience with this program. With Alex and Candace, they still are (experienced) in their own regard even though they haven't stepped foot on the floor, because they've been here. They seen what we've do, and they've gone through some things that we do in the locker room and weight room. We have great experience. A lot of seniors don't even get to go to the Final Four, and we've had six freshmen who have already been there. We are, but we aren't in that regard as far as veterans."
To bridge the gap Zolman is embracing the role of leader. She knew her senior year would feel different, but she was still taken aback at how much.
"It feels a lot different, and I don't understand why," she said. "Being here, it's your last year, your last go-around, the oldest on the team – I'm 22; I'm a year and a half older than any other person on this team. It feels a lot different because every single thing has slowed down. This is my team. The coaches are looking to me; my teammates are looking to me. The biggest challenge is vocally being a leader and being able to make sure I'm talking 100 percent of the time on the court. When things are going well, just continually encouraging. When things are going bad, they need to hear my voice first and foremost. When things are going bad, bring them together and say, ‘We're alright. We can do this.' Also to get on somebody or to pull somebody over to the side and help them, rather than always hearing coach's voice. Because you can easily tune coach's voice out. If you hear a teammate's voice, it's much different. It just has a different intensity."
Zolman is keeping an eye on the perimeter players, while Fluker manages the bigs in the paint.
"Tye is doing a tremendous job with the post game especially," Zolman said. If they're doing something wrong being the first to go to them, if someone's not talking, making sure you get in their face and tell them that."
Zolman and Fluker are not shy. They are outgoing and talkative by nature so their teammates are used to hearing their voices.
"I am going to do exactly what coach wants – I'm going to be the leader on the floor, I'm going to be the coach on the floor, the extension of the coach," Zolman said.
Zolman got a head start this preseason when a new NCAA rule allowed the full team to hold workouts before the official start of practice in mid-October. Previously, only four teammates could work out together on the court. The extra time allowed the full team to focus on offensive execution. With the offense clicking and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood back from injury to run the point, Zolman has been free to remain on the wing and rain down three-pointers. Her shots have been falling consistently and, even better for her, she's been getting some wide-open looks.
"I think it helped having practice start in August," Zolman said. "All we did was work on our offensive sets. We know our offensive sets like the drop of a hat. We're just now starting to put in our zone offense and our press breakers, but we've done everything for a couple of months already. So that should be in sync."
On Monday the male practice players were available for the first time this season.
"Being able to go against the practice guys speeds you up a little bit, so that's good and that's different, but we're very much in sync offensively as should be expected, practicing as much as we have," Zolman said.
Several of the players on last year's male practice squad had been around at least a couple of years and were well-versed in what to do. Besides the obvious physical advantage the men had, they were often quite good. There are several new faces this year, and they seemed a bit surprised at the skill level of the women.
"I didn't know what to expect. We have one or two practice guys that we had before," Zolman said. "I think coming in they do expect that, walk with a swagger, they're just girls. But we don't mess around. They're here to help us, and they will help us just because they are quicker and stronger. Just their physical presence always helps us tremendously because first of all not having to go against each other every single day, because we're going to beat each other up. We're going to do whatever it takes to get the ball. If that means beat you up, we're going to beat you up. So we'd rather beat them up than our own teammates. It's different because last year we had this All-American guys team. There was no way we could beat them."
Although the offense is obviously ahead of where it was last year, the staple of a Summitt-coached team is still defense. So far, even Summitt has been pleased with the effort.
"Defense just seems to come naturally," Zolman said. "It's all hard work and heart, so if we have it, we're good to go."
Zolman is clear on what her roles are – offensively and defensively – and she won't hesitate to step up when needed. Last year in the Final Four semifinal game, the team lost its poise in the second half and surrendered a 16-point lead. Zolman uses one word when asked what she will bring to the team this season.
"Calmness," Zolman said. "That goes along with leadership. During the course of the game, you can get caught up with the tempo, how it's going, and you forget to be disciplined. You forget to be fundamental. I think that's something I bring to the team, no matter the circumstances or the situation. Now, I'm going to take my bad shots; I'm going to take things that are forced. That's just human nature. I'm not perfect by any means. But I think being able to just calm this team down, being a go-to player, that if you need a shot, I'll knock it down. If you need a playmaker, I'll make a play."
As far as her defense, Zolman also only needs one word.
"Steady," she said. "Being somebody you can count on every single possession to do the things right. I know my role. I know what I can do physically, and that's me being steady: being out in the passing lanes, being help side, taking charges, I love taking charges."
Zolman is smiling as she talks. It's apparent she's looking forward to her senior year.
"Being that go-to player, being the leader, being the calmer, just being the coach on the floor," she said. "It's just different, but I love it. I've been waiting for this for three years."
COSTA RICA COACHES: Zolman and her teammate and best friend, Sidney Spencer, went to Costa Rica over the summer as part of a missionary trip with Score International. They participated in a lot of outreach programs, including coaching a girl's high school team that also made the trip.
"Our primary focus was we shared our testimony with other people, and we shared the Gospel with other people," Zolman said. "It wasn't about winning or losing and in our opinion that's not what it should be about at all anytime, no matter whether you're here or you're there. It's about how hard you play and being able to let God shine through you and let him be glorified through your play, no matter what the score is on the board. But our instinctive nature and we're so competitive, it's hard.
"We're on the sideline, and we're getting mad at the girls, we're yelling at the refs. It was hard to catch yourself and be like, ‘OK, this isn't the reason we're here.' "
Spencer was the head coach (Spencer will be featured in the December issue of Rocky Top News), and Zolman served as her assistant. So what is coach Spencer like?
"She's intense," Zolman said. "She's very detail-oriented. It was fun. We had a blast."