Lady Vols wrap up initial sessions

Meighan Simmons, Lauren Avant at practice

The Lady Vols took advantage of a new rule allowing an earlier start to official practice and after four consecutive sessions will now take off four days for the fall break. The initial sessions were noteworthy because of the advanced level of practice plans as Tennessee put in new offenses and defenses, worked in shooting drills and free throws and often got finished in under two hours.

Tennessee also got good medical news Wednesday when it was determined after an evaluation that sophomore guard/forward Taber Spani had just tweaked her left knee in Sunday's session and was expected to be good to go at practice next week. Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, sent Spani into the fall break with some instructions for knee care.

"The swelling had gone down significantly, not all gone, so we don't want to push it," Moshak said of the decision to hold Spani out of practice again Wednesday. "It's early and then we've got four days of fall break. I told her what she could do and what she couldn't do at home, and she'll be back ready to go."

Spani was on crutches Tuesday as a precaution, but she had already shed those Wednesday.

"She tweaked it or something, fell on it, not really sure what happened on Sunday night and then she was fine Monday, but she presented with swelling (Tuesday) so we held her out (Tuesday), held her today, but she'll practice (next) Monday," Moshak said after Wednesday's session ended. "She'll be ready to go. I feel very confident."

Spani already was coming back from a serious and painful case of turf toe that hindered her throughout the past season, but that injury is now under control.

"As long as we stay on top of it, which she is very due diligent with her rehab, she'll be good," Moshak said.

Moshak also updated the status of Alyssia Brewer, a junior forward who had surgery Sept. 10 to repair a tear in her Achilles tendon that occurred Aug. 19 when a large candle base shattered in her off-campus apartment. She had her cast removed two weeks ago and on Wednesday she was out of the Cam Walker Boot, its official trade name, for the first time.

"I am very happy," Moshak said of Brewer's progress. "We just saw Dr. (Greg) Mathien today. He said she is progressing extremely well. She can start biking (and undergo pool workouts). We started some manual resistance, and some balancing.

"She's out of the Cam Walker now and she's got a heel lift in her shoe, so we're progressing very, very well. This (was) the we-don't-do-much time. Now, we get to pick it up some, so it will be easier to see (if she is on schedule or ahead of schedule)."

Two others players are also under the watchful eye of Moshak in redshirt junior posts Vicki Baugh and Kelley Cain. Baugh is coming back from two ACL surgeries, and Cain had kneecap realignment surgery and has some chronic knee issues from the numerous subluxations she sustained before the operation in her freshman year at Tennessee.

Cain participated in all four sessions and pulled herself before the end of Wednesday's practice, as per Moshak's instructions to listen to her body.

"Kelley is hanging in there," Moshak said. "She is not going to be able to go full bore all the time, and she's a very mature athlete who knows when she needs to pull herself, and she'll pull herself."

Moshak is particularly pleased with the return of Baugh, who also participated in all four sessions and only missed part of one session in which the players underwent more full-court sets than the other practices.

"I knew with the summer (of rehab and work) that she would be fine," Moshak said. "As long as we don't overdo it, she'll be fine."

Moshak said additional padding would be used for Baugh's knee brace. She said Baugh's leg is lean and strong, plus she plays up-tempo and sweats a lot, so the pads get compressed and need to be replaced. Baugh said earlier that the brace had slipped at times so the extra padding should rectify that issue.

Baugh's body has been transformed since she arrived on campus, and she has visibly re-sculpted her upper body.

"You should have seen her lifting legs at 6 a.m. (Wednesday) in the weight room," Moshak said. "She was wonderful in that category, too. I am just very pleased with her overall body."

The coaching staff is very pleased with the overall performance of the team during the four days of practice. It was an advanced level of instruction, and the players processed everything presented to them.

"I am pleased with it," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "I think we're going at a good pace. We're not trying to overdo it. We're doing a lot more half-court stuff right now than full."

That practice approach has been the appropriate one with the number of players returning from injury or with knee histories, such as Cain and Baugh, two critical pieces of the post game.

"We're trying to sub (to get them rest between repetitions), and it's not imperative they go (the entire) one and a half to two hours a practice right now," Warlick said.

One of the most pleasant developments in the four days for the coaches is how well the two freshmen, guards Lauren Avant and Meighan Simmons, have adjusted to a team that is now primarily made up of upperclassmen.

The two newcomers aren't holding back the team because they have understood the concepts, specific drills and offensive and defensive sets. Both have already pretty much absorbed the nuances of the help line on defense, which is not at all common for first-year players, and they picked up that concept during the individual workout sessions in September.

"I am very pleased," Warlick said. "I think those two have an unbelievable basketball IQ and work ethic. More importantly, they just pick up on things. They've been taught very well, they know the game, they play well with each other, and I think our other players have a lot of confidence in those two, and you can see it on the floor.

"I don't think they feel like those two are freshmen. Lauren has missed a little bit more conditioning (because of allergies/breathing issues) … but she's held her own, so it hasn't held her back."

Another noticeable aspect of the 2010-11 team is the versatility of several players, especially Taber Spani and Alicia Manning, who have lined up inside and out.

"I love it that we have kids than can play (different positions)," Warlick said. "A-Town can play two, three and four. I love that, and I love that Vicki can come away from the basket. It's a versatile group, and we're going to be a little more difficult to guard when we can do more things than be one-dimensional."

Warlick laughed out loud when she was asked to remember back two years ago when the current juniors were overwhelmed freshmen, and practice could be almost laborious in terms of how much teaching had to be done and how slow the overall process was for the team.

"I think their work ethic, number one, is night and day," Warlick said. "I think they've made a commitment. They listen better. They respond better. They know the game obviously a lot more."

Warlick said another difference is the players now immediately know what went wrong if a play breaks down.

"They know exactly what they've done," Warlick said.

A veteran team with mature freshmen means practice runs at a nice clip with more action on the court and less time needed for repeated instructions. Once specific plays have been installed, the players still have time for free throws and shooting drills.

"We don't have to practice as long, and we're getting shots up," Warlick said. "We started our film work today, which I was excited about. We just watched what we did (Tuesday). We put in an offense and corrected them on the transition D, things that we need to get better at. One thing about films is they don't lie. I think we're going to watch more tape with these kids."

Moshak applauded how the four days unfolded from a medical standpoint.

"I think Pat (Summitt) was very, very smart (going shorter in some sessions)," Moshak said. "They eased them into it because starting two weeks early can make a big difference. These four days off are going to be good and then we'll get back into it again next week."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Clips of shooting drills at the end of the session Wednesday to wrap up practice

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