Monday, August 13, 2018

The 60th anniversary of volleyball at Tennessee


2018 marks the 60th anniversary of volleyball at the University of Tennessee! In 1958, ETSU organized a tournament in nearby Johnson City. Students at Tennessee learned about it and convinced a teacher in the school’s Department of Physical Education to take them — making Jean Wells the first volleyball coach in program history. (Serendipitously, Tennessee will again head to Johnson City this season to play ETSU!)

UT is the oldest program in the conference by far, with an unbroken string of teams dating back to 1958. Auburn fielded a team starting in 1967 (but dropped it for four years in the 1980s). Every other SEC school claims a start date in the 1970s or later.

Volleyball was also the sport that jumpstarted women’s athletics at Tennessee. In 1959, Wells recruited Nancy Lay to help grow the fledgling program. She wasted no time, taking over volleyball that year, starting up basketball in 1960, and tennis in 1963. Lay along with fellow teacher Jo Hobson spent most of the 1960s coaching the three women’s teams. Lay led the volleyball squad from 1959 to 1964 while Hobson held the reins from 1965 to 1972.

You can read all about the first 15 years of Tennessee volleyball history and those three coaches in one of my previous articles, The hidden history of UT volleyball. Today, we’ll finish up that piece by taking a look at the coaches behind those next 45 years.

1973-1974: KAYE HART

hartKaye Hart graduated from Utah State in 1965. She was the the women’s athletic director at Southern Utah, the assistant athletic director and head women’s basketball coach at Midwestern College, and a coach at New Mexico State. She was a leader in the push for passage of Title IX. She led the UT volleyball squad from 1973 to 1974.

Hart’s first team came out strong, winning 19 matches in a row. They won the TCWSF state championship and lost in the finals of the AIAW regional championship. They entered the AIAW national championship tournament with a 36-3 record. The team went 2-3, losing in their final match to defending and eventual national champion Long Beach State. Their final record was 38-6 — UT wouldn’t have that few losses again until 2004. Tennessee didn’t do as well in Hart’s second season, posting a recorded 8-14 record (with many match results missing).

After leaving Tennessee Hart was Temple University’s women’s athletic director, Utah State’s associate athletic director then acting athletic director, and Austin Peay’s athletic director. She worked extensively with the NCAA on various committees over the years. She was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Women Leaders in College Sports in 2014. Hart passed away in 2015 at the age of 72.


haleDiane Hale was a four-year player for UT from 1971 to 1974. After the departure of Hart, she moved from the court to the sideline as the new head coach for the 1975 season.

In the team’s first tournament, at Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee played in the first five-set format match in program history. Later in the season, they started out strong in the state tournament, had two chances to win the title, but fell short in both finishing in second place. They ended the year 17-8-6.

From Knoxville, Hale went on to become the head coach at Iowa State for two seasons, then Memphis State for nine years. While there she founded Memphis Juniors, the longest running club in town. She eventually moved away from volleyball and is currently the director of a government department in the state of Georgia.


jodylambertJody Lambert played basketball and volleyball for Marshall. She went to Eastern Kentucky as an assistant coach while working on her masters degree. Then took over the UT head coaching position in 1976 while working on her doctorate in physical education.

While records for this year and most of the previous ones are incomplete, 1976 featured the first recorded instance of UT being invited to a tournament held by a fellow SEC school. Among other teams, Tennessee played homestanding Georgia, Mississippi State, Auburn, and (eventual conference member) South Carolina. The Lady Vols didn’t advance far in the state tournament, losing two of three matches. Their final recorded record was 22-13-4.

1977-1978: BUD FIELDS

budfieldsBud Fields has been a fixture of Knoxville volleyball since the 1950s. He played on and coached YMCA teams for over a decade, earning multiple All-Southern honors. He helped bring the national championship to Knoxville twice. In 1971, USA Volleyball honored him with their Leader In Volleyball Award. He founded the University of Tennessee men’s club team and coached it for almost two decades. In 1977, he was named head coach of the women’s varsity squad.

UT hosted the first women’s volleyball event using the “SEC” label in 1977. Six teams competed, with Fields’ squad taking 2nd place. At the state championship, the Lady Vols went undefeated to claim the title. UT has incomplete data but has it as a 7-11-3 record his first season. (I have more, but still incomplete, data on 1977 and list it as 18-19-5). In 1978, Tennessee went 20-14-3 and came in 2nd at the state tournament.

Despite the fact that he “would like very much” to have continued as coach, Fields was replaced when the administration decided to move the women’s volleyball head coaching job from a part-time to a full-time position — Fields didn’t want to give up coaching the men’s club team he’d long been involved with. He continued to coach them for a few more years. They won several regional championships and placed as high as 9th in the country. He was an official photographer for USA Volleyball for over two decades. Fields was honored with the Frier Award in 1997, the highest honor USA Volleyball can bestow. Again in 2000 they recognized him with the Kennedy/Johnson Heritage Award for his contribution in preserving volleyball archives. In 2003, he was inducted into both the YMCA Hall of Fame and the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. In 2011, he was named to the Lady Volunteer Hall of Fame. Two men’s club tournaments at UT are named for him. And you can still find him in the stands at Lady Vol matches!

1979-1986: BOB BERTUCCI

bobbertucciBob Bertucci attended Springfield College in Massachusetts from 1970 to 1974. His volleyball team went 85-14-3 during his career, including earning a spot in the 1971 Final Four. He was a team captain and two-time MVP. He graduated in 1974 with a degree in health and physical education. He played and coached at the YMCA in New York City for awhile, before founding the women’s volleyball program at Army in 1978. His first team at West Point made it the the AIAW district championship and he was named Eastern Collegiate Volleyball League Coach of the Year. He headed south to Tennessee in 1979.

Bertucci got results immediately. In his first season the team went 34-11, came in 2nd in the SEC Tournament, won the state tournament, and moved on to the region championship. Tennessee made their first recorded trip to the west coast, playing teams outside the southeast and midwest for the first time.

His next two seasons were milestone years for the Lady Vols and volleyball in general. In 1981, after winning the school’s first official SEC Championship, Tennessee was invited to the first ever NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament. The field only contained 20 teams that initial year, and UT was the only SEC member. Tennessee faced off against Purdue and lost 0-3.

In 1982, the Coaches Poll was started. The Lady Vols defeated the first ranked team they ever faced, #15 Penn State 3-1. After coming in 1st in tournaments in Memphis, Louisville, and Raleigh, and then defeating four of the next six ranked teams they faced (including their first top ten win, over #7 Arizona), UT found themselves ranked for the first time ever — #15 in the sixth poll of the season. They went on to win the SEC Championship again and again were invited to the NCAA Tourney, this time hosting. The field was increased to 28 teams, with the Lady Vols again the only SEC representative. With the defeat of their sixth ranked team of the year, UT advanced in the tournament for the first time. A run-in with #5 USC, ended the run. Tennessee set two Tournament records in 1982 that still stand today: Beverly Robinson’s 11 aces against Northwestern, and the two teams’ combined 20 aces. The Lady Vols finished the season ranked #14 in the country with a 31-7 record.

Bertucci’s next two seasons were very similar to the last. Tennessee started the 1983 season with a win over #9 Arizona State. They went undefeated in three separate tournaments held in Knoxville. UT came up just short in the SEC Tournament championship match and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They ended the year ranked #14 with a 31-10 record.

The 1984 squad lost some early matches which knocked them out of the rankings for the rest of the year. But they fought back, winning Bertucci’s and the school’s third SEC Championship in four years, made another second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and ending up with an impressive 25-11 record. Bertucci was named the SEC Coach of the Year.

Things started to go downhill in his last two seasons. In 1985, the team had their first losing season in years with a 12-24 record, and placed in fifth in the SEC Tournament. They missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in its existence. In 1986, it looked like he had the Lady Vols turned around, winning their first 11 matches in a row. But the team went 12-13 in their last 25 matches, and again came in fifth in the SEC Tournament.

Bertucci resigned at the end of the 1986 season, “for personal and business matters”, in a move that surprised everyone. After leaving Knoxville, he moved back north to Rutgers-Newark running both the men’s and women’s teams. He made it to another men’s Final Four and was named the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Coach of the Year three times. He then spent 16 years at Temple, where he led the team to four conference championships and a Sweet Sixteen berth. He earned three Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year awards. In 2011, Bertucci took the head coaching job at Lehigh, where he continued the amazing success he has had at every stop. After not having a winning season in eight years, his first squad went 19-10. His teams earned a spot in the conference postseason tournament six of the seven years he was there. And, once again, he picked up a Coach of the Year award in 2014, this time from the Patriot League. He resigned at the end of 2017. He has almost 800 career wins.

Bertucci is involved in many other volleyball pursuits outside the college ranks, including working with USA Volleyball, writing books, creating training videos, and running his popular volleyball camps. He has been named to the Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame, the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame, and the YMCA Volleyball Hall of Fame.

1987-1990: SANDY LYNN

sandylynnSandy Lynn was a two-time All-American player from Utah State and a member of the 1978 AIAW National Championship team. After graduating she was hired as an assistant coach at Texas in 1981, where she helped the Longhorns to that years’ AIAW National Championship. She coached Illinois State from 1982 to 1986, leading the team to four NCAA Tournaments, four conference tournament titles, and three regular season championships. She took the helm at Tennessee in 1987.

While her first season was an 18-18 effort, the schedule featured five teams ranked in the top ten — the most such teams faced by a UT squad until the 2005 Final Four year. Tennessee earned a 3rd place conference finish. In 1988, the Lady Vols improved to 23-12 and second place in the league. Lynn was named the SEC Coach of the Year. The team didn’t fare as well overall in 1989, with a 13-15 record. However UT did have a winning record in the SEC, and tied for third in the conference.

Her final year was more disappointing at 12-17 overall and 4-4 in the SEC. However, there was a bright spot. Lynn went to the administration with the idea of bringing a national postseason event — the Women’s Invitational Volleyball Championship — to Knoxville to help expand the the Lady Vol brand. She said, “A lot of people around the country look at Tennessee as a basketball school. We need to build a volleyball reputation… I think this is a real first step”. She also hoped it would eventually have a direct impact on the team itself. Potential recruits would be on hand, coaches from around the country would be in town, and Lynn hoped they would “go home and spread the volleyball word about Tennessee”. The Lady Vols and nineteen other teams from around the country descended on Stokely Athletics Center to end their seasons. You can read all about the tournament in a previous article I wrote about the event.

She resigned in early 1991, and decided to move on from volleyball. She said, “I plan to pursue other opportunities… I’m looking for a different type of challenge. I am at the point and the age in my life, where I need a change after 10 years of coaching”. Sandy Lynn died in 2001 in a hiking accident near Carlsbad, New Mexico at the age of 44.

1991-1996: JULIE HERMANN

juliehermannJulie Hermann played volleyball at Nebraska from 1981 to 1984. She was an All-Big Eight player and helped her team to four conference championships, four NCAA Tournaments, and two top five finishes. She served as an assistant coach at Georgia and Wyoming. Her first head coaching position was at Northern Arizona. A year later, Tennessee came calling.

She had a rough start in Knoxville. The team went 12-17 in 1991, but boosted that to 13-14 in 1992. A highlight of that second season was defeating #16 Kentucky — the first win for the Lady Vols over a ranked opponent since 1983!

Hermann’s steady improvement reached a head in 1993. UT started the season 0-3, but then rattled off 17 wins in the next 25 matches. They were rewarded with Tennessee’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1984. The team finished the year 18-13.

Unfortunately, that was the peak for her time on Rocky Top. The team fell to 10-20 in 1994. Then 7-25 in 1995 — notable also as the only year in program history where the team went winless in conference play. Her final season came in 1996, when the team ended her tenure with a winning season at 17-16.

While her Tennessee peak may have been a few years behind her, Hermann’s career trajectory was on its way up. She spent 15 years at Louisville as Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director. In addition to all her responsibilities managing 20 sports, she helped move the Cardinals from the small time to a power conference — working on the transition from Conference USA to the Big East and then from the Big East to the American Athletic Conference. That experience didn’t go unnoticed. When Rutgers was preparing to make a transition to the Big Ten Conference and found themselves in need of a new Director of Athletics, they turned to Hermann, making her one of a handful of female athletic directors in the FBS side of Division I. During her career she has served on many boards and committees, including for the NCAA, NACWAA, WMCA, and AVCA. Since leaving Rutgers, she is serving on the board of the Alliance of Women Coaches.

1997-2017: ROB PATRICK

robpatrickRob Patrick played football and volleyball at Miami University in Ohio, where he earned a degree in business with an accounting concentration in 1983. He reached the top four in USA Volleyball championships several times, winning three times in 1990, 1992, and 2006. He picked up USVBA All-America honors twice. From 1994 to 1996 he served as an assistant coach at Stanford, where the team went 92-6, won three conference titles, played in three Final Fours, and earned two national championships. He took the reins at Tennessee in 1997.

I’m not about to go through all the many accomplishments of Rob Patrick over his two decades at UT. I’ve written about them plenty already! You can read all about his hiring and first season here. You can read about the breakthrough 2004 32-2 season here. You can read about the historic 2005 Final Four season here. And you can check out a look at his impressive career in numbers here.

But here are a few quick bits: longest serving coach in program history; 16 winning seasons in 21 years; 9 NCAA Tournaments; 409 wins; 16 players earning an All-America honor; 2 SEC championships; 2 Sweet Sixteen appearances; 1 Final Four appearance; 6 top 25 finishes; 3 SEC Coach of the Year awards; 2 Region Coach of the Year awards; 2 national coach of the year awards.

After retiring from Tennessee after 21 years, Patrick said, “this is the proper time for me to move on to other opportunities”. That includes getting back to his pre-volleyball roots in finance — “which will allow me to spend quality time with my wife and two young daughters”.


everackhamEve Rackham was UNC’s setter from 1999 to 2002 and helped lead the team to four NCAA Tournaments, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance. She earned First Team All-ACC and First Team AVCA All-Region honors in 2002. She graduated with a degree in journalism and mass communication in 2003. She spent a year as an assistant at Colgate, three seasons in Greenville with East Carolina (arrrgh!), and a year at Florida International. She returned to her alma mater as an assistant coach in 2009. In her nine years with the Tarheels, the team went 210-77 and went to seven NCAA Tournaments. In 2014, she was named AVCA Division I Assistant Coach of the Year.

As we look back and remember and celebrate the last 60 years of Tennessee volleyball, Rackham is preparing to lead the Lady Vols as they move towards the next 60 years. I am very much looking forward to seeing where she — and the rest of the Tennessee staff and players — will take us!

Sources include Eric John Kloiber's True Volunteers, Debby Schriver's In the Footsteps of Champions, The Knoxville News Sentinel, Athletic Business, other newspapers, and yearbooks, media guides, and websites, from the schools mentioned.