Three Lady Vol teams in action Friday

Three Lady Vols teams are in action Friday night. The soccer squad kicks off its season and home opener, the volleyball team also holds its first home game of the young season, and the cross country team will be off and running in Nashville.

The soccer team will host of the eighth First Tennessee Lady Vol Classic. The tournament features No. 7 Penn State, Minnesota and Central Florida.

The Gophers and Knights open festivities on Friday evening at 5:30 p.m. before the Orange and White make their regular season debut against the Nittany Lions at 8 p.m.

Sunday's action begins at 10:30 a.m. with Penn State and Central Florida followed by the Lady Vols and Minnesota at 1 p.m.

UT will open the season at the Lady Vol Classic for the first time in the tournament's eight-year history.

Tennessee will face the Nittany Lions for the second time in program history on Friday. The two teams battled to a 1-1 tie in Penn State's tournament last season. The match marks the third time UT has opened the season against a ranked opponent. Sunday will be the first meeting between the Golden Gophers and Lady Vols. Live statistics for all four games will be available on

The Lady Vols have compiled a 6-5 record all time in season openers, but have won each of their five previous season openers played at home. The last time UT opened the regular season in Knoxville was on Aug. 27, 2004, when it topped 15th-ranked Duke 4-3 in overtime.

The Orange and White have the opportunity to push their record in season openers against ranked opponents over .500 after dropping the 2005 debut 7-1 to North Carolina. The Lady Vols topped ranked opponents in the first game of the year in both 2001 and 2004.

Head Coach Angela Kelly and her assistants Joe Kirt and former UT soccer standout Jen Laughridge Grubb are looking to propel the 2007 edition of the Lady Vols to another level. After last year's team reached the NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinals for the fourth time in five years, the 2007 squad is looking to ascend to a higher level in collegiate soccer.

Although the Orange and White lost four seniors in 2006, including two-time All-American Ali Christoph, Kelly returns eight starters from the 2006 squad that went 12-7-4 overall.

Last year's top two scorers return in junior Kylee Rossi, the 2006 SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and sophomore Mick Imgram, who notched seven goals and six assists last season. Junior goalkeeper Jaimel Johnson is back in top form after spending eight games last year on the bench due to injury and should be a key cog in the defense.

The coaching staff has added a new face to the sideline for 2007, after losing five-year assistant coach Scott Blount. Kirt will step in as the goalkeeper coach and joins the Lady Vols after spending the past two years as the Director of Goalkeeping for the Texas Soccer Club's Challenge, a youth soccer organization, located in Houston, comprised of 29 girls' soccer teams. Prior to his time with the Challenge, Kirt was the assistant coach with the University of Houston under head coach Bill Solberg from 2000-05. Kirt will focus on training the goalkeepers as well as coordinating recruiting, travel and soccer camps.

VOLLEYBALL OPENER: The Tennessee volleyball team will open the home portion of its schedule when it hosts the Comcast Lady Vol Classic at Stokely Athletics Center.

Making the trip to Rocky Top will be Appalachian State, Belmont, Indiana and Jacksonville State. The Lady Vols are scheduled to take on the Mountaineers in the 7 p.m. match Friday night.

The Big Orange is coming off a successful trip to Omaha, Neb., where it competed in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Showcase at the Qwest Center. UT began its season with defending national champion and top-ranked Nebraska, falling in three games. It looked to be in trouble again the next day as No. 21 Utah claimed the first game 30-10, but Tennessee rallied to win a five-game thriller over the Utes.

Following the tournament, junior Milan Clarke was named to the all-tournament team, as she led UT in both kills (24) and attacks (69), over the course of the weekend. Sophomore Leah Hinkey also stood out on the stat sheet, as she recorded the fourth-highest single-match block total in school history with 13 putbacks in the victory over Utah. For their efforts, Clarke and Hinkey were named Lady Vol Athlete of the Week and Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week, respectively.

The Lady Vols will be looking to continue their run of success in non-conference tournaments hosted on their home court, as they are currently riding a nine-match winning streak in such contests, dating back to 2003.

The Comcast Lady Vol Classic will begin with Jacksonville State taking on Appalachian State at 10 a.m. Friday morning in Stokely. Tennessee will take on the Mountaineers later that evening at 7 p.m., before squaring off with Belmont and Indiana at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Throughout the years, the Tennessee volleyball team has amassed a stellar 24-5 (.828) record in home openers. During the Rob Patrick era, the Lady Vols have been even better with a 9-1 (.900) mark in his 10 years at the helm. The lone loss during that span was to LSU on Sept. 21, 2001.

The team will also be looking to keep its nine-match non-conference home tournament winning streak intact this weekend. The Lady Vols have not lost on their home court in tournament play since suffering a five-game defeat at the hands of Michigan on Sept. 13, 2003.

CROSS COUNTRY ON THE ROAD: For the second straight season, the Tennessee women's cross country team will kick off its season at the Belmont Opener in Nashville.

The Lady Vols, picked to finish second in the Southeastern Conference Preseason Coaches Poll, will be part of a field of 13 teams competing Friday in the 4,000-meter race at 5:30 p.m. Central Time at Percy Warner Park.

UT Head Coach J.J. Clark's squad, which finished second by one point last year to UAB at the Belmont Opener, will head to Music City with a roster of seven runners. Included in the travel party are juniors Rolanda Bell, Sarah Bowman, Kimarra McDonald and Katie Van Horn, sophomores Jackie Areson and Phoebe Wright and freshman Brittany Sheffey.

Among the schools slated to be on hand for the meet are SEC foes Alabama and Vanderbilt, host Belmont, Eastern Illinois, Lipscomb, Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky. Vanderbilt and Alabama were picked to finish sixth and eighth, respectively, in the SEC this season. Belmont has won five of the past six Atlantic Sun Conference trophies.

"We're looking forward to getting the season started and trying to establish ourselves," Clark said. "Our long-term goal is to get into the shape necessary to be competitive in our conference and nationally. We just want to get our rhythm going and move our cross country mindset in that direction.

"I am looking for them to come together as a team, and our first step in doing that is this meet. We simply want to get the ball rolling and keep everyone healthy as time goes on."

The Big Orange women will be led by Bowman, a two-time All-SEC performer and 2006 NCAA All-South choice, as well as 2006 All-South honorees Van Horn and Areson. Bowman did not participate in the meet a year ago, while Areson and Van Horn wound up placing 12th and 29th, respectively, in their first meets as Lady Vols as Clark's fourth and fifth scoring runners. Bell, Wright and McDonald placed 31st, 44th and 53rd, respectively, at the 2006 Belmont meet.

Clark will have two more NCAA All-Region performers staying behind in Knoxville to continue their training. Junior Leah Soro, a 2005 All-South and All-SEC performer, and junior transfer Heidi Magill-Dahl, a two-time All-Mountain Region and All-Mountain West Conference selection at BYU, are capable of providing a huge boost when they join the UT pack in competition.

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