The Lady Raiders are on the road again with a trip to Knoxville for a meeting against the Tennessee Lady Vols.
The longtime in-state rivals met for the first time without coaching legend Pat Summit behind the bench for the Lady Vols. Both teams are currently on long winning streaks, but one will come to an end Wednesday.
Of course, the Lady Vols made a historical change behind the bench during the offseason as Summit stepped down after being diagnosed with early onset dementia.
She had been at the helm since 1976, becoming the all-time winningest basketball coach in the nation with a 1,098–208 record, including winning eight national championships.
For MTSU head coach Rick Insell, who has been a longtime friend with Summit, it will be bittersweet not coaching against her for the first time since the series restarted in 2006.
“It’s not the same without her in the game,” Insell said. “It won’t be the same going up there. The reason why we are playing right now is because of Pat Summit. Pat and I have been friends, and she told the program that Middle Tennessee would be on the schedule every year.”
The teams have met each season since 2006, except in 2010, when the teams could not find a place on the schedule, because of media commitments with the Lady Vols, Insell explained.
Now, UT is led by trusted assistant Holly Warwick as the Lady Raiders look to pick up its first ever win against the legendary program. The Lady Raider coaches and players agree they are ready for the challenge.
“It’s going to take everybody coming together,” Lady Raider junior forward Ebony Rowe said. “We just can not have a couple of people show up. We are going to have to have a good defensive game, and produce on offense. It’s going to take everyone working together for a common goal.”
As for Insell, the team enjoys matchups like this one to see where it stacks up with the top teams in the nation.
“For us to play them every year is big for our program, because can gauge ourselves to where we are at,” Insell said. “It also shows us where we need to be and how far we need to go.”
When the two teams met last November, the Lady Vols were ranked No. 8 in the nation and knocked off MTSU 82-43 inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
Only two Lady Raiders scored in double figures in the loss, Rowe had 10 points and senior guard Kortni Jones added 16 points. However, the Lady Raiders feel more prepared this time around as a UT team that is ranked No. 15 in the nation, Rowe said.
Both teams only have one loss on the season, the Lady Vols were upset in its season opener to UT-Chattanooga on Nov. 9, while MTSU’s only defeat came at Iowa in the semifinals of the Preseason WNIT on Nov. 18 on the first game of its five-game road trip.
The last two weeks have been one continuous trip across the nation for the Lady Raiders.
The 5,000-mile trip has included wins at Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette. After last night’s game, MTSU finishes up the road trip Saturday at South Dakota State. Rowe said the road tour will help them later in the season.
“It’s definitely prepares us mentally,” Rowe said. “It’s difficult playing on the road, traveling, going to different airports. I think it is making us tougher by throwing more obstacles at us.”
Saturday’s game at South Dakota State tips-off at 4 p.m.
The Blue Raider men’s basketball team is also in action this week. Tonight, it opens up Sun Belt Conference play at Louisiana-Lafayette, and heads to Akron on Sunday.