KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee considers the opportunity to play for a national title in its home state the perfect chance to end its Final Four drought.
The Lady Vols opened practice this week with five of their top six scorers back from a team that went 27-8 last year and lost in a regional final for the third straight season. After overachieving in the first season of the post-Pat Summitt era, Tennessee believes it's ready to start competing for national titles again.
Tennessee hasn't reached a Final Four since its 2008 national championship, the Lady Vols' longest absence from that event since the NCAA started running the tournament in 1982. This year's Final Four takes place in Nashville, about a three-hour drive from Tennessee's campus.
"It does feel a little bit different because our goal is just right up the street," senior guard Meighan Simmons said Tuesday. "It's one of those things where we have to pay attention to detail and not think too far ahead of ourselves."
The high expectations represent a change from last year, when Southeastern Conference coaches picked Tennessee to finish fifth in the league. Tennessee instead won the SEC regular-season title.
"I think we have a great chance of winning the entire thing," junior forward Cierra Burdick said. "I think we have an awesome opportunity to go to Nashville and compete in that Final Four and bring it on home to Knoxville."
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick embraces these ambitious goals. She started talking to her players about the possibility of getting to Nashville almost as soon as their 2012-13 season ended with a surprising 86-78 loss to Louisville in the Oklahoma City Regional final.
The Lady Vols, who won eight national championships during Summitt's 38-year tenure, adopted the slogan "Grind For Nine" as they began preseason workouts Monday with a 6 a.m. workout.
16 Week Curriculum With Instructions, Lesson Plans & CNG Conversion Kit