Pat Summitt is retired and won’t be yelling on the sideline at BankUnited Center on Sunday afternoon. Instead, it will be her equally intense longtime assistant, Holly Warlick. The University of Tennessee women’s basketball team is ranked No. 24 in its first post-Summitt season, uncharacteristically low for a program that sat on top for so long.
Still, when the Volunteers come to your gym, it’s big news.
It is especially exciting when your team is ranked higher than Tennessee, as the University of Miami is this week. The Hurricanes (2-0) are ranked No. 23 and pumped for their 2 p.m. matchup. UM players have been spreading the word around campus, eager to draw a good crowd.
“When you get to a point where we want to play Tennessee to get better, and they want to play us to get better, that is a big statement for the growth we’ve developed here,” UM coach Katie Meier said.
“I have a ton of respect and owe a lot of my career to Tennessee, their generosity. If I needed an out-of-bounds play, I could call Holly right now, or Coach Summitt right now and they’d give me an out-of-bounds play to make me a better coach. That’s what they’re in it for, opportunity for young players, and coaches. I wish I’d see more of it in the sport. It is rare and a wonderful thing that they’ve been headliners this whole time for women’s basketball.”
Meier said she and coaches all over America are rooting for Warlick.
“Holly’s more than prepared to take the mantle and do her thing,” Meier said. “I can totally see on film she’s doing it her way. They changed things. I’m proud of her. We were all rooting for Holly. She’s been there and done tremendous things, and she deserves this opportunity. She didn’t take it by default. She’s taking it by the horns and saying, ‘This is my deal, and I’m ready to do it.’ ”
Meier said she sees Warlick’s personality in the team’s up-tempo style early this season.
“She coaches with a ton of emotion and might sweat more than I do on the sideline, which is saying something,” Meier said. “They’re really flying up and down the court right now, almost a little bit of chaos out there they’re trying to generate. That’s definitely Holly.”
The Hurricanes have won 41 consecutive home games, the second-longest streak in the nation behind Stanford’s 80. They plan to keep it going.
Said senior center Pepper Wilson: “I’m very excited. We haven’t lost a game here in three years. This will really test the team and who we are. Last year we had two very good players who left the program that were top scorers. It didn’t give a chance for other players to emerge. This year, everyone can finally see the talent we really have.”
Example A is sophomore Michelle Woods, who scored 19 and 20 points the first two games this season after averaging 3.1 last year.
Despite the Vols’ high profile, the Canes are not overhyping the game.
“Our conference is so impressive, it’s not like we’re going, ‘Oh my god, this is our one opportunity to face a great team and wow, better make sure we show up for this one game this season,’ ” Meier said. “Frankly, there are a lot of Tennessees on our schedule this year.”