Women's basketball vs Vanderbilt

Holly Warlick, head coach of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers basketball team during the game against Auburn at Thompson-Boling Arena on Jan. 7, 2018.

Usually a team that is faced with the daunting task of replacing three seniors, while bringing in four true freshman, would look at that inexperience as a negative. That is not the case for the Lady Vols basketball team.

With the season set to tip off in just over a week, Tennessee held their annual media day at Pratt Pavilion. Head coach Holly Warlick, as well as assistant coaches and players, were on hand to discuss the upcoming season, the team’s energy heading into the season opener and how the team’s chemistry has meshed throughout the offseason.

Freshman bring energy to the team

Following a 25-8 campaign which saw the Lady Vols exit the second round of the NCAA Tournament on their home court to conclude the 2017-18 season, Tennessee parted ways with senior contributors Jaime Nared, Mercedes Russell and Kortney Dunbar.

As part of the 2018 recruiting class-which ranked fourth-best nationally according to ESPN-the Lady Vols brought in four true freshman. According to coaches and the team’s upperclassman, the freshmen have brought a new energy to the team in offseason workouts, as well as practice.

For sophomore center Kasiyahna Kushkituah, that energy has led to the team performing better as whole.

“They’ve been getting better every day,” Kushkituah said. “They are very competitive and they work hard every practice. They are full of energy. That is something that we really need this year.”

As someone who was in a similar role a year ago as a true freshman, sophomore guard Rennia Davis has now stepped into a leadership role for the newcomers, who she says will need to continue bringing that energy throughout the season.

“Just continue to play your game,” Davis said of her message to freshman players. “Regardless of who we are playing against. You can be a freshman and use that as an excuse if you want, but that’s not going to help you.”

“I think we’re going to be good. I think their energy, their effort and how much we compete at practice helps us.”

Warlick sees Lady Vols as ‘tight-knit’ group

When addressing the media, a common theme in head coach Holly Warlick’s opening statements was ‘tight-knit group.’ As the season approaches, Warlick believes this team already has a certain closeness that past teams have not had.

“I love this basketball team,” Warlick said. “They are very competitive. They are really a tight-knit group. I mean, they are tight. We haven’t had that in a long time. I enjoy coaching them.”

With such a young team, Warlick was concerned, heading into the offseason, about how well the freshmen would connect with the experienced players on the roster. To this point, she has been pleased with the team’s chemistry.

“We have four freshmen who are highly competitive,” Warlick said. “If you talk to them, it’s about the team. It’s not about the individual accolades. It’s just a feel. I see it on a daily basis. If you watch us close enough this year, you’ll feel it.”

Senior leadership has been key

With four freshmen and two sophomores on the roster, the senior leadership roles have fallen on just two seniors who have been with the team the last four seasons: forward Cheridene Green and guard Meme Jackson.

Where the freshman have brought energy, the seniors have brought leadership through their experiences, and that is something that will be paramount to Tennessee’s success this season, according to Holly Warlick.

“Meme Jackson has matured so much,” Warlick said. “She has been a great leader on and off the court and so has Cheridene (Green). Your seniors have to lead. They have to lead. They’re doing a great job.”

For Green, the role of senior leader has been one she has embraced as she prepares for her last season in Knoxville.

“Even outside of basketball we hang out with each other and we encourage each other,” Green said. “Being a veteran, I’m working to be more vocal and leading by example. I’m really focusing on being vocal and telling my teammates they’re doing a good and what they’re not doing.

“I’m more confident with myself on what I’m supposed to be doing and that’s the role I’m taking on this year.”

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