Lady Vol reporter's notebook

The Lady Vols volleyball team has gotten off to a stellar start, the soccer team is being led by a senior who readily accepts the label of role model, and the basketball team is getting national press because of a sophomore sensation.

The volleyball squad is 5-1 – and jumped out to a 5-0 record before falling to Southern Cal at a California tournament – and is justifying its lofty national reputation and No. 11 ranking after making it to the NCAA championships last season as one of the last four teams standing.

"This match provided a much-needed test for our team," coach Rob Patrick said after the loss to USC. "Not only did it show us what we need to work on in terms of our play on the court, it also let us see that we need to play with more intensity and competitiveness.

"We could have folded after losing the first game, but we battled back and put ourselves in a position to take the match to a fifth game. Most of our mistakes were due to the fact that we were playing four freshmen who made typical freshman errors. We will take more positives from this match than negatives."

Patrick is meshing a slew of newcomers with the returning players and loaded up his schedule with tough opponents to test his team. Tennessee also played Miami of Ohio – Patrick's alma mater – and took that game at home as part of the Comcast Lady Vol Classic.

"The coach at Miami of Ohio (Carolyn Condit) is a great friend of mine," Patrick said. "We went up there and played in 2000. She's a great coach and has done great things for the program."

Tennessee has a tough challenge coming up against Louisville – a home game on Sept. 19 – and playing the Cardinals is in keeping with Patrick's philosophy.

"When we played Louisville really tough and barely lost at their place, it brought back a tremendous amount of confidence to our team," Patrick said of last season's match. "It was a turning point to our season, even though it was a loss."

During an August interview, Patrick raised the specter of playing Virginia in the opener as part of the classic.

"Another team who is going to be very good is Virginia," he said. "Virginia is returning all of their starters. That's out first match out of the gate. That's a little scary for us. We'll welcome the challenge. We're not going to shy away from playing good teams."

Tennessee won three games to one – after losing the first game – to start the season 1-0.

"This was a perfect example of how our practices have gone this year," Patrick said. "We typically start slow and finish strong. While it was great to get a win over a great team like Virginia, this match shows that we still have work to do."

Patrick figured that work would be accelerated by scheduling the best competition and will pay dividends in the postseason.

"It doesn't hurt you playing the top teams," he said. "We were 11 and seven at one point in our season last year. Of those seven losses, every single one of those teams was in the NCAA Tournament, and I believe six of those teams were in the Sweet Sixteen. We still got a seed; they only seed the top 16 in volleyball. How does a team with those losses get a seed? It was how tough of a schedule we played."

SOCCER LEADER: During a preseason interview coach Angela Kelly remarked about the accomplishments – on and off the field – of senior midfielder Ali Christoph. The All-American from Columbus, Ohio, took some time before a practice in August on a scorching hot day to comment on her role.

The team, which is 1-1-1 to start the season, is fewer in numbers than last season but more experienced.

"In practice we'll come out here and do all the drills we've already all done," Christoph said. "There's no real teaching involved anymore. Our personalities fit together."

As a senior Christoph said her role "on the field (is to) try to help players around me and as well learn from them. Never miss a chance to learn. Off the field perform academically."

The soccer team will be back in action Sept. 8 and Sept. 10 against UNC-Greensboro and Middle Tennessee State University as part of the First Tennessee Lady Vol Classic at Regal Soccer Stadium. Game times are 8 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.

NATIONAL EXPOSURE: Tennessee sophomore post/wing Candace Parker is in Durham, N.C., this month during training camp for the USA national team. Parker, whose versatility is a huge plus, is considered a lock to make the squad, which will have an exhibition match on Thursday against Australia at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The world championships will be held Sept. 12-23 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The timing means Parker will miss the first month of school – not a concern for the academically minded player who is well on pace to graduate – and preseason individual workouts with the Lady Vols coaching staff. Coach Pat Summitt said that was fine.

"I think it's great because I think the intensity demands of going against the caliber of players she'll go against every day is good," Summitt said. "The competition is solid. Obviously I always worry about someone coming back and having an injury, but I can't be that paranoid every day of my life. I think it will be good for her."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories