Last Friday, the first official day of practice, three players did not participate. Freshman center Stephanie Holzer was in a boot, awaiting an October 19 surgery for an earlier ankle injury which was re-aggravated. Sophomore Jordan Coleman and freshman Gabby Smith were ill and sitting out but expected to recover soon.
The first week of practice is a drill fest. Everybody gets in on the action. Three on two, two on one, five on five – rebounding, dribbling, offense and defensive techniques, learning plays and getting their game on in the hustle of competition.
By now, Meredith, the media's pre-season Second Team All SEC pick, knows the ins and outs and what's expected quite well. "Our coaches thrive on making us work hard when we're tired, so we're all competitive and we're exhausted at the end of those three hours," Meredith said. The mental agility comes with learning the system, adapting to what coaches teach and focusing on getting it right.
"The only time I struggle is with running suicides," Meredith admits. But she has a phrase that gets her through when she wants to quit, when her legs are about to collapse and she can't breathe and is desperate for water. "I just start thinking about spelling that word. I tell myself it's one at a time. Every time I touch a line, I say a letter and it spells out the words P-R-E-S-S-O-N. It just gets me going to that next line, to that next letter to finish the words, and then I'm done."
Conditioning is a must between seasons and there's little physical slack before games begin. "We take pride in being conditioned," Meredith states. "If we're not, that looks bad on our coaches and on Tash (Weddle, strength and conditioning coach). We've come to understand that discipline and hard work will put us where we want to be."
Of the goals Meredith has this season, consistency is at the top.
"I want my coaches and teammates to be able to know what they're going to get from me day in and day out. They're going to get hard work, dedication and passion every time I step out on the floor. I just want to lay it out there. There's only this one season left."
Specifically, last year's team free throw percentage leader wants more of the same. "I want to get to the free throw line more. I need to bring that strength of mine. With that comes just getting to the line by driving to the basket instead of sitting outside shooting. I can knock them down, but I love creating. I want to be more of a complex, diverse player. I want to get to the free throw line so I'm working on passing more and getting fouled and finishing."
Meredith is also working on her midrange game, shooting in the paint and consistently knocking down the three at every opportunity. She tied for 47th in the nation with a 39.1% three point field goal percentage last season. "It's what I'm good at, so I'm going to need to knock it down, but I don't want to be a one-dimensional player. I'm just working on expanding my game right now."
Aligned with what her coaches expect, Meredith is also focusing on floor leadership, but that goes without saying. Throughout her college career, she's been quick to give pointers to her teammates and understands how the freshmen are feeling now.
"There are days when you think, ‘I can't do this anymore,' but every freshman goes through that. They're pushing through. We know they want to be here and want to be a part of this time and contribute. So we're just asking them to work hard. That means more than making mistakes – if you work your butt off, it doesn't matter."
There's little doubt that Meredith and her teammates will get an A for effort this season. Practice does pay off.