The game, which will mark the debut of Kellie Harper as Lady Vols coach, will be televised locally on WEMT (FOX 39) and MyVLT (Channel 8) in the Knoxville area.
It’s an important game for ETSU, the second time in four years the Lady Vols have come to Johnson City. Tennessee won 83-58 on Nov. 15, 2016, in front of an ETSU record home crowd of 6,072 at the Mini-Dome.
“It’s a big deal for the program and the region,” said Brittney Ezell, who begins her seventh season as Bucs coach. “It’s the second time since 1981 (that Tennessee has come to Johnson City) and it’s long overdue. We don’t want it to be such an anomaly, and we’re excited that the East Tennessee region is going to get to see some good women’s basketball.”
Both teams have plenty to prove after last season.
ETSU lost its first eight games on its way to a disappointing 10-21 season. Tennessee finished 19-13 and 7-9 in Southeastern Conference play. After losing to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Lady Vols fired Holly Warlick as head coach and replaced her with Harper in April.
Heading into this season, ETSU will rely heavily on 5-foot-5 junior guard Erica Haynes-Overton, the two-time reigning Southern Conference defensive player of the year.
Haynes-Overton led the Bucs in a number of categories, including scoring (16.8 points per game), 3.8 assists per game, 3.1 steals per game and 143 free-throw attempts.
Also in the backcourt is Kaia Upton, who made the All-Southern Conference freshman team last season.
Adding to the depth is junior guard Micah Scheetz, who led the Bucs with 15 points in a hard-fought 80-61 loss at Tennessee last December in Knoxville. The Tennessee game is personal for Scheetz, who played at Knox Webb High School.
“She is from Knoxville, played for Shelly Collier, who was Shelly Sexton when she played for Pat Summitt,” Ezell said. “It has a personal meaning to her. Erica and Kaia both being from Nashville and Ty (Tijuana Kimbro) being from Memphis, we have a lot of Tennessee connections where it’s a big deal to them.”
The Bucs will be short-handed after dealing with some injuries.
Senior guard Jada Craig will be out the first few games of the season after playing in only seven games in an injury-riddled junior year. The playing career of Anajae Stephney has ended after lingering effects from a concussion suffered in last season’s Furman game. Stephney, a 6-foot-2 senior, would have been the Bucs’ most experienced post player.
Still, Ezell feels confident with junior college standouts Kimbro, a 6-foot-4 center, and Cierrah Perdue, a 6-foot-1 forward, leading the Bucs up front.
St. Bonaventure transfer Arielle Harvey and sophomore forward Shynia Jackson will also be carrying the load, along with E’Lease Stafford who saw limited action a year ago.
“I like the way our frontcourt with Ty, Cierrah, Arielle and Shynia is coming along,” Ezell said. “While they’re an unproven commodity right now, I think they will be a pleasant surprise for everybody.”
NO TENNESSEE IN THE AP
Tennessee is looking for national respect, unranked in the preseason Associated Press poll for the first time since 1976. The Lady Vols fell out of the AP poll Jan. 14 last season and didn’t return.
The Lady Vols have played one exhibition game, a 70-44 win over Carson-Newman. All 12 Tennessee players had double-digit minutes, although the Lady Vols didn’t shoot the ball well, hitting 35.4 percent from the floor and 2-for-15 from 3-point range.
Rennia Davis, a 6-foot-2 junior, led the way with 20 points and eight rebounds. Rae Burrell, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, had 15 points and eight rebounds. Jordan Horston, a 6-foot-2 freshman guard, had four steals.
Davis led Tennessee in scoring (14.9 points per game) and rebounding (7.7 per game) last season. She and Burrell are listed as guard/forward on the official roster. Other than 5-foot-8 freshman guard Jessie Rennie, the Lady Vols’ lineup is made up of players ranging from 6-0 to-6-5. A pair of athletic 6-foot guards, Jazmine Massengill and Zaay Green, also present tough matchups.
“They have some really good perimeter players coming back,” Ezell said. “The big task for us will be containing, protecting the paint and rebounding the basketball. You’re never going to shut players like that out, but we have to limit them and prevent anyone from having a career night. We have a pretty good game plan in place, and I think the kids feel confident about it.
“At the end of the day, this game will help us win the Southern Conference, but it’s not going to lose it for us. We have to keep the big picture in mind when we play the non-conference schedule.”