Vols volleyball boasts talented team

Published 7:26 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2023

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The 2023 season for the Lady Volunteers promises to be an exciting one, filled with thrilling matchups and a talented roster ready to compete at the highest level. Led by head coach Eve Rackham Watt–in her sixth season–the Big Orange are poised to make a significant impact on the hardwood.

With a large roster of 21 skilled student-athletes, Tennessee boasts one of the deepest teams in the league, providing coach Rackham Watt and her staff with plenty of options. The squad features a mix of returning starters, experienced transfers and promising freshmen, creating a versatile lineup and leading to competitive practices.

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UT will be led by veteran All-American Morgahn Fingall, who will play a pivotal role in guiding this year’s success. Fingall’s 483 kills last season earned her All-SEC First Team recognition, while she was the conference leader and ranked inside the top 20 in the nation in kills per set and points per set. Her exceptional attacking skills will make her a dominant force on the court once again this year, especially when she’s paired with Tennessee’s dynamic attacking trio.

The Lady Vols bolstered their roster with four impactful transfers who bring a wealth of experience and talent to the team. Jenaisya Moore, a graduate student and former Ohio State standout, adds power to the outside hitting position. Moore’s impressive stats with the Buckeyes, including a career-high 362 kills in 2022, makes her a key offensive asset for Tennessee.

“We’ve been fortunate in the transfer portal to get a couple of graduate transfers to come in and really add some experience and depth,” Rackham Watt said. “Jenaisya Moore, who had a great career at Ohio State and was a part of that Elite Eight team last year, came in this summer and added a lot of experience to the roster for us.”

Tennessee’s offensive prowess remains a standout feature, with the team returning a significant portion of its kills from the previous year. Led by Fingall, Moore and Erykah Lovett, who posted 379 kills a year ago, the Lady Vols’ attacking front ranks among the best in the nation. Their combined statistics from the previous season place them among the top Power 5 programs as one of only four schools to have three returning attackers who combined for more than 1,000 kills last season (1,224), joining Oregon (1,301), Stanford (1,278) and Wisconsin (1,206) in achieving that feat.

“You have to win on the pins at the highest level,” Rackham Watt said. “You need options and the fact that we have three that have a ton of high-level experience will be great for us and will definitely put pressure on other opponents. Just the ability to spread the ball on the court and keep the net long while also having multiple options in the back row, I anticipate us being a tough team to defend.”

With the departure of a couple of key players, the Lady Vols turn to Keondreya Granberry and transfer Raeven Chase to fill the middle blocker position. Granberry, who earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors, showcased her defensive prowess with 103 total blocks last season. Chase’s shot-blocking ability and experience offers Tennessee a solid presence above the net. During her last three seasons at Eastern Michigan, Chase eclipsed the 100-block mark each year, making her one of the top blockers in the nation.

Like Granberry, Klaudia Pawlik also gained valuable experience in the absence of Danielle Mahaffey last season and looks to take on an even more significant role in the middle blocker position. Pawlik and Granberry’s growth and contributions last season set them up well for continued success and leadership in 2023.

The setter position will see competition between graduate transfer Lauren Woodford, graduate student Kylie Robinson and redshirt freshman Caroline Kerr. Their diverse skill sets and determination will drive the team’s offensive strategy and contribute to its overall success.

“We have three setters competing right now for a spot,” Rackham Watt said. “Kylie has been here; she’s a graduate transfer as well in her final season of college. She has a lot of game experience. Lauren came to us from Syracuse. She has two years of eligibility left, and she was a starter at Syracuse as well so between the two of those players they have a lot of experience. Then our redshirt freshman, Caroline Kerr, did a great job over the spring learning on the fly. She got an opportunity to get a ton of experience, she did everything she possibly could to get ready for this season and prepare herself, and I think she’s ready as well.”

The Lady Vols are preparing to face a demanding schedule, taking on multiple conference champions and NCAA Tournament teams on the road. The early-season matchups on the road against No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 12 Marquette and No. 13 San Diego will certainly be tests for the team and provide valuable experience against top-tier opponents that should pay dividends later on in the season.

“If we want to be great and be playing our best volleyball in December, and we want to make a run in the tournament we’re going to have to challenge ourselves,” Rackham Watt said. “Not only at home, but we’re also going to have to play in tough environments and get used to that. Those opportunities are where we learn the most, and the goal is to learn about ourselves and figure out where we construct practices from there. Hopefully, some teams expose some things, as that’s the best way we can get better.”