KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – This year’s Tennessee Lady Vols have been challenged with upholding Pat Summitt’s legacy without her.
Summitt made the program the standard-bearer for women’s college hoops, but stepped aside in April after announcing last year she has early onset dementia.
The program has been turned over to new coach Holly Warlick, an assistant to Summitt for 27 years.
“We definitely want to keep passing the torch for years to come,” sophomore center Isabelle Harrison said. “It’s something that we’ve embraced. We’re not running away from it.”
Summitt left the Vols with 1,098 victories and eight national titles in 38 seasons. She remains on staff as head coach emeritus, attends nearly every practice and is expected to be at all of Tennessee’s home games.
Tennessee opens the season Friday in Chattanooga, and the Lady Vols are ranked No. 20, their lowest rank since February 1985. They have nobody who started an NCAA tournament game during their run to a regional final last season.
“I think a bunch of people are crossing us off the map,” sophomore forward Cierra Burdick said. “That just kind of fires me up, because Pat has worked so hard to get Tennessee at the top of women’s basketball. I want to help her legacy.”
During SEC media day last month, Warlick was asked whether she had the worst job in America.
“I was taken aback,” Warlick said. “If you could poll a lot of coaches, they’d love to be in my shoes. I think it’s the best job in the country.”
A Knoxville native, Warlick played for Summit and was the first Tennessee athlete to have her jersey retired.
During an August team meeting, Warlick handed each member of the team a white baton. The batons included the message: “Tennessee Lady Vols tradition... All we are doing is passing the baton. New team, new staff, new goals. ... Same heart, same pride, same fight. Take the baton and let’s go!”