Stellar season for Lady Vol volleyball

The University of Tennessee is known for its powerful women's athletic programs. Most think of the "dunk" that women's basketball can bring, but Coach Rob Patrick of the women's volleyball team says, "Come to a volleyball game and you will see the ‘dunk' every play."

Rob Patrick is in his 13th season with the Lady Vols. He was initially attracted to Tennessee because he saw how successful the other Lady Vol programs were. When he first arrived he felt the volleyball program was in a down cycle, but could be as successful as Tennessee's other athletic teams.

When asked what Patrick thought he did to make the volleyball program so successful he said, "Teams are an extension of their coaches, and something I learned initially from my parents was to be hard working.

"With a lot of skill development we took some people who maybe were not great volleyball players, but great athletes and made them into excellent players."

One player who has been working extremely hard is Kayla Jeter. Patrick described her as very coachable and a great athlete. For most of Jeter's high school career she played middle hitter, but in her senior year she switched to outside hitter and has continued to play this position in college.

"Kayla is an excellent athlete and volleyball player," Patrick said. "We have been working on getting her experience playing outside hitter and really getting her comfortable in the position."

Jeter's athleticism is no surprise since she is the daughter of NFL player Gary Jeter. She said her father never pushed her to pursue sports, but growing up around him caused her to naturally be interested in them.

"My sister is actually why I became interested in volleyball," Jeter said. "She played in high school and I thought it was so cool and I wanted to be just like her."

Jeter also added, "I ran track a little and played basketball, but volleyball was the only sport I played that really carried into high school. From then on I was volleyball all the way."

Jeter went to high school in Ohio, but decided to come to Tennessee because she wanted to try something new and different. She loves how friendly everyone is here, and she said when she came, "It just felt right."

When Jeter isn't practicing for three hours a day or doing extra conditioning, she participates in a lot of volunteer work. Like any other college student she hangs out with her friends on campus, and tries to be as involved with a variety of things as possible.

During her first year on the team, Jeter's main focus was working on her skills and getting used to the face pace of the game. Since last year Jeter feels she has really worked on attacking. She initially was a little tentative when it came to this aspect of the game, but as the season got going she became much more aggressive and consistent.

With her improvements from last year, Jeter has earned a lot more playing time.

"I think I bring another offensive attack," Jeter said. "Last year I didn't really play as much and I want to come in and really make an impact this season."

"As a team overall, I think we are much more cohesive. We aren't just six individuals on the court."

Last season the entire team had to work on a brand new offense. Patrick described the new offense as "tempo-based," meaning it is a little bit quicker.

"Much of last year was focused on getting the hitters and setters more comfortable with the offense," Patrick said.

This season the team will be at an advantage, because the players have had a full year of practice with the new offense, and they also have had the same three passers for the past two years.

Patrick said this brings continuity and consistency to the team because the players are very comfortable with the main parts of the game.

A strong offensive game will definitely be key for Tennessee to prevail over top challenges, such as Kentucky or Florida. Those two teams are obviously formidable, but Patrick said other teams, like Alabama and especially Mississippi State, pose just as much of a threat.

"This year every team we have played in the SEC has gotten better, which is something you can't say every year," Patrick said.

"The SEC has the greatest athletes in the nation in the same conference. So while teams like Mississippi State may lose to teams like Florida, it does not mean they are not playing excellent volleyball."

Currently Tennessee ranks 20th nationally in RPI, and they are ranked third in the SEC, with only Kentucky and Florida ahead of them.

Both Patrick and Jeter hope to advance to at least the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament this year.

"If we can make it that far, then all we need to do is beat the team we are matched up with one time in order to advance to the next round, even if that team is ranked ahead of us," Patrick said.

Jeter said, "You can beat any team on their day, so as long as we play consistently and play hard we can get as far as we want to go in the tournament."

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