The at-large bid is UT's seventh straight invitation to the NCAA Tournament. The Orange and White has advanced to the "Sweet 16" in four of the past five seasons, playing host to the first and second rounds each time.
Tennessee enters the tournament after falling in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time since 2001. The Lady Vols are 8-5-2 all time in the NCAA Tournament.
The bracket, announced on Monday night, features No. 1 seeds Stanford, UCLA, Penn State and defending national champion North Carolina. Both the Nittany Lions and Bruins are on Tennessee's side of the bracket. The SEC earned six bids to the national tournament, including a trio of No. 3 seeds in Georgia, Florida and UT. LSU, Auburn and South Carolina also received invitations to the tournament.
The Orange and White have compiled a 7-3-1 record this season against NCAA Tournament teams, including wins over No. 1-seeded Penn State and a tie with No. 2 seed Southern Cal.
Tennessee will open the tournament on Friday against the Paladins, who have played in Knoxville for the NCAA Tournament two times in the past five years. Game times for the first and second rounds will be announced later.
LADY VOL VOLLEYBALL: After leading the volleyball team to a victory over South Carolina with a career-high 28 kills on Sunday, Lady Vol rookie Nikki Fowler has been named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week, the league office announced Monday.
The award is Fowler's second of the season, as she also earned the honor for the week of Oct. 15.
The native of Dallas, Texas, also posted a personal-best .377 hitting percentage with just two errors in a career-high 69 swings in the contest, while collecting her ninth double-double of the season as well with 13 digs. Just two days earlier, Fowler paced the Big Orange offense with 10 putaways against No. 8 Florida.
She finished the weekend as the team's top performer in kills (38), kills per game (4.75), attacks (107), hitting percentage (.299), points (39.5) and points per game (4.94). Fowler also had a perfect passing weekend with no errors in 37 reception attempts and finished third on the squad with 21 digs and 2.62 digs per game over two matches.
For the season, Fowler has played a critical role in a number of areas for the Lady Vols, as she leads the Big Orange with 315 kills, 935 total attacks, 3.12 kills per game, 389.5 points and 3.86 points per game. She also stands second on the squad with 26 aces and 89 blocks, third on the team with 85 assists and 0.88 blocks per game and fourth with 247 digs and 2.45 digs per game.
"I am really happy for our team. They have been working very hard and deserved this win," UT head coach Rob Patrick said after the South Carolina game. "We have been in a lot of five-game matches that have not gone our way this season, but our team did a nice job of staying focused and working hard in that fifth game. I was also very proud of the way we fought through the tough play of South Carolina who had an exceptional day defensively.
"We simply rode the hot hand of Nikki Fowler on offense today. She was basically unstoppable, so we continued to feed her the ball. We were a little bit one-dimensional, but luckily, Nikki was able to figure out how to get past USC's defense. She would have had even more kills if it weren't for the strong defensive play of South Carolina."
Tennessee will not have to wait long before getting back on the court, as it will host border-rival Kentucky in a mid-week contest at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Seniors Yuliya Stoyanova and Joselyn Johnson will be honored prior to the match for their contributions to the Lady Vols over the last four years.
The Orange and White will then travel to Fayetteville to close out the SEC portion of its schedule against Arkansas at 7 p.m. on Friday.
LADY VOL ROWING: The University of Tennessee women's rowing team closed out the fall season with two silver medals at the Rivanna Romp in Charlottesville, Va. on Sunday.
The Lady Vols finished the fall with six golds and their best performance in program history at the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, Mass.
"Overall, it was a very good day for us," UT Head Coach Lisa Glenn said. "We are looking forward to another transition to the off-season and in particular to getting back together in preparation for the spring season come January."
The Orange and White recorded a second-place showing in the Varsity 8+ race, despite having some trouble with equipment before the event. The shell, led by sophomore coxswain Katie Ross, included seniors Jessica Ayers, Renee Brittle, Krista Gearing and Mary Jones, juniors Erin-Monique Shelton and Kate Brownlee, sophomore Laura Miller and freshman Libuše Bruncíkova'. UT finished behind the host Virginia and ahead of Ohio State in the race.
"I really appreciated that the host Virginia allowed us to delay the start of the Varsity Eight race after having some equipment difficulties at the start of the race," Glenn said.
Tennessee earned its second silver in the women's double, coming in behind the Cavaliers and ahead of the Buckeyes again. Shelton and Bruncíkova' combined for their second medal in as many races together after taking gold in the Championship Double at the Head of the Hooch on Nov. 3.
The Lady Vol novices also competed in the event, taking third and fifth in the Novice 8+ race in Charlottesville. The race featured six shells, while the third-place finish marks the second-highest by a novice eight boat during the fall.
"I thought overall the races were solid," Glenn said. "The team finished out the fall season having put together stronger elements to our races in our last outing and I was pleased with that."
Tennessee now goes into the off-season and will reconvene for training in January. The Lady Vols will be looking to improve upon their ninth place finish at NCAA Championships last year. UT will kick off the spring season in March.
LADY VOL CROSS COUNTRY: Tennessee landed three women on the all-region team, but that feat was not enough to enable the 25th-ranked Lady Vols to continue their string of five consecutive top-three finishes at the NCAA South Regional Cross Country Meet.
Instead, the Big Orange women had to settle for fourth place Saturday morning at the University of Florida Golf Course and will have to wait and see whether they are extended an at-large bid to the NCAA Championship meet.
Third-ranked Florida State, which was spurred by a second straight regional victory from Susan Kuijken (20:19.01), took the team trophy with a score of 40 points. Georgia,ranked 29th this week, and Florida, which received votes in the most recent USTFCCCA poll, finished second and third, respectively, with 75 and 94 points. Tennessee, which had beaten both UGA and UF at the SEC Championships two weekends ago, had to card a fourth-place score of 152 after its fifth runner was disqualified.
UT, however, would have been relegated to fourth even without the DQ ruling handed down against junior Rolanda Bell.
The top two finishing teams earned automatic bids to the NCAA Championships, and the NCAA Selection Committee will announce 13 additional at-large team bids as well as individual at-large invitations.
The NCAA meet will be held Nov. 19 in Terre Haute, Ind., and Tennessee, 104-19 in 2007, is seeking to qualify for the competition for the sixth straight season under head coach J.J. Clark and for the 11th time in program history.
It was not an exceptional showing that we had," Clark said. "As a group, it was very hard for us to rebound when we found out Jackie Areson would not be able to run for us due to a foot injury. We might have an outside shot of getting to nationals. We'll just have to wait and see."
The Big Orange did get All-South Region performances from three Lady Vols who finished in the top 25 out of a field of 145 runners. For the second year in a row, junior Katie Van Horn was UT's top regional finisher. After taking eighth in 2006, the product of Glendora, N.J., came in 11th this time around in 21 minutes, 6.48 seconds to earn her second all-region nod. She ran third for Tennessee for most of the race before kicking hard over the final 500 meters to pick off a number of runners, including her two teammates.
"Katie Van Horn has performed consistently for us every time out, the entire year," Clark said. "I am not surprised at all about how consistent she has been, and I am very appreciative of her efforts."
Junior Sarah Bowman managed to collect her second straight all-region certificate, crossing the line in 14th place in a time of 21:12.19 to improve upon her 23rd place regional effort of a year ago. That award probably came with little consolation for Bowman, though, as she ran with FSU's Kuijken and the lead pack for much of the race before losing touch with the eventual victor and coming back to the rest of the pack over the last mile. The runner-up team placement for Bowman also marked the initial occasion this season she had not hit the finish chute first for the Orange and White.
In her second race as a Lady Vol, junior transfer Heidi Magill-Dahl posted a season-best readout of 21:15.36 to also grab All-South kudos. It marked the third career all-region award for the former BYU standout, who earned All-Mountain Region acclaim with the Cougars in 2004 and 2005. Magill-Dahl also got out well and joined Bowman and Kuijken in the lead group, but she too fell back slightly as the race wore on.
Freshman Brittany Sheffey was Tennessee's fourth finisher, covering the 6,000-meter distance in 22:01.87 to place 33rd. Sheffey was the Lady Vols' fourth runner in each of the past three races and counted toward the team score in all of her six outings this season.
Bell would have been the Big Orange's fifth scoring runner in 34th place with a time around 22:03, but she and Georgia freshman Kylie Foley got tangled up as they converged on the finish line. When Bell stumbled, she stretched out her arms to catch her balance. As she did so, she and Foley again made contact. Even though the incidental contact would not have altered Georgia's team score, and the Bulldogs filed no complaint, meet officials chose to disqualify Bell anyway and upheld a UT protest, much to the disappointment of Clark.
As a result, Tennessee's next finisher, sophomore Phoebe Wright, became the fifth counting runner. So, instead of Bell's output in the 30s, UT had to count Wright's 80th-place (with displacements) score and finish of 23:57.91. That meant a final tally of 152 rather than a more competitive sum of 104.
"I think Rolanda Bell gave her best result of the season," Clark said. "To come back and find out that she was disqualified was extremely disappointing. Between that, getting Heidi onboard late this season and losing Jackie to the injury, it's just been that kind of year for us, but we will continue to persevere as a group."