08 Jun There’s No “I” in Lady Volunteers
Very few know what it feels like to walk the path of greatness, even less know what if feels like to follow after it. There are definitely crazy amounts of pressure to play and coach women’s basketball at the University of Tennessee, especially in the wake of the Summit era coming to an end. It seems that everyone is passing judgment and dissecting your every move. It breaks my heart to read some of the messages “so called” Lady Vol fans post and send me during the season. I’ve held my tongue for far too long. As a former Lady Vol, I admit it’s tough to watch the games sometimes and yes, I do my share of couch coaching, cussing, and fussing, but make no mistake; I am not a fair-weather fan. I once wore a uniform with Tennessee across my chest and I experienced first hand the blood, sweat, and tears that came along with that honor and responsibility. I may have my opinions, but I would never turn my back on my team. Finding that groove with your coaches and teammates, rebuilding, and revving that engine that drives you isn’t always an easy process. I know the pressure playing for a program like Tennessee. I remember looking around the arena at the championship banners, the legendary court, the die-hard loyal fans, and quickly I understood what it meant to put on that orange uniform. You are now apart of the legacy!!!! People don’t care if you’re a highly touted freshman or the last player on the depth chart, once you step on that court everyone expects you to successfully play your part in the pursuit of a championship season.
Many remember me winning 3 out of 4 championships during my college career. Those championships were just the result: one part of the mental and physical discipline to get better and push harder everyday. I remember that amazing feeling after winning the title as a freshman. To get a taste of it was like a dream come true, but what I experienced the second year was disappointingly opposite. Fans bad mouthing the team, saying coach Summitt was too easy on us, everyone jumping ship. We were considered to be in a rebuilding year and our coaches told us to take it one game at a time. Coach told us to just keep progressing game after game and encouraged us to block out the naysayers, and by season’s end we would start to click. Guess what, we did. As disappointed as Coach was, she never lost faith in us and when your leader believes in you….you believe. Coach did, I did, Kellie did, Abby did, and I could go on and on. Optimism is the key as much as putting in the hard work. I’m not at practice with our current Lady Vol’s team everyday, but I know they work hard and that same passion, discipline, and perseverance has been instilled in each one of them as it was in me. Whether we played in the same seasons or not, we are all teammates.
I wish someone could go pull up video from the post-game press conferences of our 1996-97 team (Where’s Debby Jennings?). Coach Summitt would be mad, but never did she just throw us under the bus. She always found a way to shine a light on the positives and what adjustments we need to make to get stronger. In the locker room we would be deflated, some of us with tears in our eyes because we wanted it so badly, we were so close. I remember passing the coaches’ locker room after a loss that season and hearing Coach DeMoss say “Pat take it easy on them. They want it so bad I can see it. Don’t break them down.” Coach Summitt agreed. She came in and praised our good effort, she said “lets just keep getting better. We will watch the film and see where we broke down defensively.” So, as a current player, or former player, a coach, a manager, or a fan (yes, I am talking to you), you are an integral part of the Tennessee legacy on and off the court. It’s incredibly important to be that positive force that lifts the team up, like Coach Summitt did after that heartbreaking loss; take the opportunity to acknowledge the effort and build the program up, not tear it down.