Volleyball season starts tonight

The Tennessee volleyball team will be the first to get a chance to dethrone defending national champion and top-ranked Nebraska when the two teams clash at the American Volleyball Coaches Association Showcase at the Qwest Center in Omaha at 8:30 p.m. CT tonight.

The match is the Lady Vols' first against a No.1-rated squad since 1996 and just the fifth in school history. The contest will be carried live on CSTV nationwide and a video feed will be available at www.CSTV.com.

UT returns three starters and 12 letterwinners from a 2006 squad which reached the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.

A junior, Mindy Flynn will be looked at to lead the way for the Orange and White as two-time AVCA Honorable Mention All-American Yuliya Stoyanova makes her way back from a knee injury.

One of the Lady Vols' top performers last season, Flynn posted 135 blocks and 248 kills, good for second and fourth on the team, respectively. Her breakout performance came at the Comcast Lady Vol Classic on Aug. 25-26, 2006, where she claimed tournament MVP honors after recording 25 kills with just one attack error in 53 attempts over the course of the three-match competition.

One of the most reliable freshmen for the Big Orange last season, Leah Hinkey will also be counted on heavily for significant contributions. The Glenwood Springs, Colo., product started in 29 of the team's 31 matches, recorded the fifth most kills on the squad (221), as well as the third highest block total (133). Her 1.19 blocks per game average ranked her seventh in the Southeastern Conference. For her efforts, Hinkey was named to the league's all-freshman team.

Also returning will be senior Joselyn Johnson, juniors Milan Clarke and Laurén LaFlamme, sophomores Jena Berg, Carol Cheade, Chloe Goldman, Jaye Loyd, Kylie Marshall and Farren Powe. Donning the Orange and White for the first time will be highly-regarded freshmen Krista Brenner and Nikki Fowler.

CREATING A NEW LEGACY: In each of the past three seasons, Tennessee head coach Rob Patrick has guided his squad to the NCAA Tournament, reaching the regional semifinals in 2004 and the Final Four in 2005. Many of the leaders from those teams, however, have graduated and a youthful squad is set to take the court for the Orange and White in 2007, as nine of the team's 14 members are either freshmen or sophomores.

Past precedent of success has been set. There is a tradition to uphold. For these players, the 2007 campaign serves as a perfect opportunity for them to leave their own mark on the program to "Create a New Legacy."

SEC PREDICTIONS: The volleyball team has been picked to finish third in the SEC Eastern Division, as determined by a vote of the league's 11 head coaches. With a total of 25 points, the Lady Vols were selected to finish behind league-title favorites Florida and Kentucky.

Following Florida (10 points), Kentucky (22) and Tennessee (25) in the East were Georgia (41) and South Carolina (42). In the Western Division, Alabama (14) was selected to edge out LSU (17) for the top spot, while Arkansas (28), Ole Miss (36), Auburn (47) and Mississippi State (53) rounded out the group.

The Gators were unanimously selected to win the SEC championship, earning 10 votes in the preseason survey. The Wildcats were the only other team to earn mention in the title vote, receiving one nomination.

Points were compiled on a 1-2-3-4-5-6 basis for the Western Division and 1-2-3-4-5 for the Eastern Division. Each coach was not allowed to vote for his or her own team, and each coach also voted for one team as an overall conference champion.

The 2006 season was a record-breaking year for the SEC as seven teams earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament. It also marked the 17th-consecutive season in which the SEC has placed at least two teams in the NCAA Tournament.

Nationally, eight players were named AVCA All-America and 13 players were named to the AVCA Division I All-District Team.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories