The Lady Vols will tip off the 2022-23 season Sunday with an exhibition contest against Carson-Newman and while the game doesn’t count, it does give fans a chance to see the six newcomers on the Tennessee roster. The Lady Vols Boost (Her) Club also will hold a free event at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame before the game.
Tip time is set for 2 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena, and the game will be livestreamed at SECN+. The regular season opener will be on the road on Nov. 8 against Ohio State with a quick turnaround for the Lady Vols’ home opener against UMass on Nov. 10.
It will be Tennessee’s second outing of the preseason after a scrimmage was held last weekend at Georgia Tech. Teams can opt to have two exhibition games against non-Division I opponents that are open to fans and media or hold a closed session with one Division I team as another option. The Lady Vols have taken advantage of the scenario – last season Tennessee played N.C. State – to get a stiffer opponent. The scrimmage, by NCAA rules, is closed to all but team personnel and support staff.
The trip to Atlanta also allowed Tennessee to show support for former Lady Vol Tasha Butts, who is the associate head coach for Georgia Tech. Butts has been battling advanced stage breast cancer for nearly a year. The players wore Tasha Tough T-shirts, and Georgia Tech has started a second fundraiser in coordination with the Kay Yow Cancer Fund to help underserved women get access to cancer healthcare. Donations can be made HERE.
“Tasha Butts, LVFL, somebody that meant a lot to this program and still means a lot to this program,” Tennessee Coach Kellie Harper said. “She’s an alum. Obviously, someone that’s battling cancer and has been so strong and such a fighter. With being in different leagues, we don’t see her a lot during the season, and it’s hard to sometimes connect.
“It was great opportunity for us when we were playing at Georgia Tech to go down there and show her some love and support because she is family. I wanted her to feel that from us, from her team here in Knoxville. It was a little emotional, but I’m glad we were able to do that for her.”
The scrimmage gave both teams a good gauge on where they stood in preseason. The scrimmages can be a mix of game simulations and practice sessions and apparently newcomer Rickea Jackson impressed everyone in the building.
“In our scrimmage, we weren’t perfect, but there were some things I really liked,” Harper said. “We looked like a veteran team on the court with little things. I like the fact that we had improved from our previous scrimmage (against each other and male practice players in Knoxville at an open session for fans) to that day. I like that when we are challenging our players with certain things, they are stepping up and getting those things done. So, I really like to see those improvements.”
Sunday’s exhibition matchup will provide a game-day scenario, allow both coaches to try assorted combinations of players and offensive and defensive looks and give Carson-Newman a payday for its program. The Eagles often have been Tennessee’s exhibition opponent; last season, the Lady Vols hosted Georgia College, which is coached by Harper’s brother, Ross Jolly. In 2020, because of the pandemic and a later start to the season, no exhibition games were scheduled.
“We are glad to be back on the exhibition schedule there,” Carson-Newman coach Mike Mincey said. “I think it’s a great experience especially for our homegrown talent that grew up watching the Lady Vols play. Now they are going to be in that building competing against them.
“I think we have only two players that have played in that game. The preparation that goes into playing a team of that size and that caliber has always helped us when we go back into Division II play. This year will be no different.”
Carson-Newman won the South Atlantic Conference’s regular season crown in 2020-21 and the tournament championship in 2021-22. The Eagles have reached the Division II NCAA Tournament in five consecutive seasons.
Carson-Newman is led by two homegrown players, 5-5 junior guard Braelyn Wykle of Greeneville and 6-2 junior forward Lindsey Taylor of Maryville, both of whom were first team first-team all-conference selections. Wykle, an All-American last season, is third on the school’s all-time scoring list and fourth in three-pointers. Taylor was fourth in the country in field goal percentage, and the Eagles were 26-0 when she scored in double figures.
Carson-Newman’s 13-player roster has 12 players from Tennessee, including Keeleigh Rogers, a freshman guard from Knoxville. The Eagles have a 6-4 player in Ruthie Mbugua, a redshirt freshman from Danville, Kentucky, and Kali McMahan, a 6-1 freshman forward from Dandridge, so Carson-Newman has some counter to Tennessee’s size.
The Lady Vols also could start the 6-6 Tamari Key and 6-5 Jillian Hollingshead inside. Harper has a lot of firepower this season with an available roster of 15. (Senior Jessie Rennie is out indefinitely to rehab a knee injury.)
Two things seem certain for Tennessee: The Lady Vols won’t show too much for Ohio State to scout, and a lot of players will log minutes.
Fans can stop at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, located in downtown Knoxville near campus, for a pep rally from 11:30 a.m-1:30 p.m.
Calling all @LadyVol_Hoops Fans- We are having a Pep Rally Sunday before the Lady Vols Game. Come join us 11:30-1:30 pic.twitter.com/dqvaZT94qI
The first 100 attendees will receive a free ticket to the game against Indiana on Nov. 14, and tours of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame are just $4. Food trucks will be on-site, and the free event will feature games and door prizes and information about joining the Lady Vols Boost (Her) Club, which allows student-athletes to participate in NIL activities with fans.
The rather famous Sinan Squirrel also will be at the pep rally. The squirrel is a fixture at football games and has a Twitter page HERE.
With a stacked roster, determining starters and rotations will be an evolving process.
“I think there are going to be some questions that can’t be answered until we have games,” Harper said. “I think that is going to be some lineups, some lineup combinations. I think we will see a more accurate picture when we get to games.”
It’s almost game time.
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