knoxville, TENN. (WATE) – Adorned on the far wall of the practice facility stretches a silhouette of the Smokey Mountains.
These days, Tennessee Volleyball is back to hiking toward the summit.
“We’re where we’re supposed to be,” says senior middle blocker Erica Treiber.
For the first time since 2012, the Lady Vols are ranked in the Top 25 and playing in the postseason again, all in Eve Rackham’s first year as a head coach.
“She’s a calming voice for us. She’s definitely calming and pushing us to do better,” Treiber says.
“It’s absolutely amazing to make it to the tournament,” adds senior defensive specialist Brooke Schumacher. “For me that’s been the goal of my four years of volleyball and here we are.”
It’s a tournament trip that’s been worth the wait for Tennessee’s seniors. Their head coach has been waiting for something else, entirely. Last Wednesday, Rackham welcomed her newborn baby boy, Jude, into the world.
“It’s super tough that she won’t be there,” admits Treiber. “But we have faith in the team and the rest of the coaches that we can go out there and get it done without her.”
The new mother hasn’t traveled with the team for most of November, and won’t be with them this weekend in Washington for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. At least, not in person.
“We have her in our heads when we play,” Schumacher says with a smile. “She’s always there for us. I just think the toughest part is her not being with us to see how we compete.”
But that hasn’t slowed the Lady Vols’ climb. Since taking over as acting coach, Tyler Adams is 5-0, including a sweep over conference powerhouse Florida for the first time since 1988.
It might be Rackham’s first team, but it takes a village to raise a program from 12 wins to 25. Tennessee planning to deliver a few more before the season ends, too.
“We’re definitely playing for her and the baby and each other at this point. We just want to go out there and leave it all on the court.”