Dan Fleser: Thoughts About UT Athletics

Monday, June 27, 2022 - by Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

A thought or two about Tennessee athletics:


-The news of Tennessee winning the all-sports championship for the SEC conference came and went earlier this month. It was lost amid the fallout from a baseball season that ended too soon and the now year-round fixation on football’s recruiting.


The achievement deserved better.


Mike Strange, my former Knoxville News Sentinel colleague, and I have talked about this topic and we share the same sentiment.

He wrote a column about it for the Shopper News here in Knoxville and I’m leading off this notebook with the subject. Neither of us think a parade is in order, just that this championship for the 2021-22 athletic year is worth savoring. Being the best in the nation’s best athletic conference reflects the collective health of UT’s individual sports and the commitment from the administration – all the way to Andy Holt Tower.


Since the announcement, Tennessee may have gotten even better when athletic director Danny White announced the hiring of Sean Carlson as the head coach and director of cross-country and distance events. He joined Duane Ross, who was hired earlier as the head coach and director of track & field.


A UT cross-country/track alum, who was over the moon about the Ross hire, was intrigued that Carlson was announced as a head coach of cross-country. He’d never seen an HC title bestowed to the position. It suggests a greater commitment to the sport. In turn, the move might add to the athletic department’s momentum.


“This past year, it’s felt like the whole of Tennessee athletics has been on a mission,” said Matt Kredich, the director of swimming & diving. “There’s been an energy that maybe used to be contained to one team, but now that energy just ignites everyone. And it goes beyond the walls of a single team. I haven’t felt anything like it in my 17 years and it’s just getting stronger.”

 

-Watching the SEC Network documentary last week on former Lady Vols basketball great Tamika Catchings and the 1997-98 undefeated national championship team brought back a specific memory that might relate to this season’s team.


A game against Louisiana Tech that season was referenced in terms of the result – a 75-61 Lady Vols victory. The performance foreshadowed what was to come. The game also previewed the team’s popularity. A crowd of 16,490 showed up at Thompson-Boling Arena on a Friday night in November. It wasn’t the day after Thanksgiving either. While Tech was a marquee opponent, the turnout was nearly double what Tennessee normally could expect for a high-profile game that early in the season.


Last week, Lady Vols assistant coach Samantha Williams tweeted the following: “News alert...Get your tickets now...this Lady Vols team has a chance to be really special. #One.”


If the coaches feel that way about a roster boosted by four transfers and a freshman then they ought to keep pushing the promotional thought. The undefeated team fed off the atmosphere created by a big crowd. It was like oxygen for their competitive fire. Maybe this season’s team, which could be Tennessee’s best in several years, might receive the same benefit.     

       

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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at ddanfleser3@gmail.com.


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