It took a detour to the state of Pennsylvania, but Knoxville native and Farragut High School graduate Avery Strickland is weeks away from starting her career as a Lady Vol basketball player.
For her mother, Anissa Strickland, who is a special education teacher at Karns High School and a Tennessee alum, it’s the fulfillment of her daughter’s dream.
“She’s where she’s at because she loves doing what she does,” her mother said in an interview with Knox TN Today. “People in our family and different people have helped her along the way. Lots of people have encouraged her and helped that. But to be here it’s amazing.”
Here, of course, is Tennessee’s campus, a few miles from the family’s home in West Knoxville. Anissa Strickland and her extended family – she grew up in Roane County – will make the short trek all season to Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center.
The first exhibition game is Oct. 30 against Carson-Newman, followed by a Nov. 5 matchup with the U.S. Women’s National Team. The games count for real starting Nov. 7 against Florida Atlantic University, which is coached by former Lady Vol legend Bridgette Gordon.
That’s a short trip after Avery Strickland spent her freshman season in Pittsburgh, and her mother made the one-way, 7.5-hour drive as often as she could. Tennessee recruited her while she was in high school but was maxed out on scholarships.
She intended to go to West Virginia, but then the longtime coach retired months before she finished high school. After her first year at Pitt, the school parted ways with her coach, and Avery Strickland entered the transfer portal. Coach Kellie Harper got Strickland, whose nickname is Ace, the second time around.
“I worked my butt off at Pitt,” Strickland said. “I got to play against some of the top-ranked teams in the country. Every single game I’ve learned so much about myself and how to play at the top level. I believe I bring experience. I bring hard work, and I’ll be in that gym every day.
“When you get the opportunity to do something as great as this, you can’t take it for granted.”
During the campus tour on Strickland’s visit, she didn’t really need a guide. She grew up going to Lady Vol basketball games, and her older brother, Cameron, played baseball at Tennessee and is now an assistant coach at Johnson University in Knoxville.
When Strickland arrived last June to start summer school and workouts, the team was preparing for 10 days in Italy and Greece.
“I went to Italy with Pitt last year,” said Strickland, who noted she used the experiences to bond with her new teammates and serve as tour guide.
The first game won’t be her first time on “The Summitt” court. When she was 8 years old, her Tennessee Fury team played at halftime of a Lady Vols game. She missed her one and only shot and was devastated that Tennessee wouldn’t recruit her in a lengthy profile that can be read HERE.
Strickland will be one of four Tennessee natives on the roster this season. The others are Destinee Wells and sisters Tess and Edie Darby.
Anissa Strickland accompanied her daughter on her official visit to campus last April. She was a student when the late Pat Summitt won her first and second national titles. The family has long supported the Lady Vols and watched Kellie Harper when she was called Kellie Jolly and helping Tennessee win three more national titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
“We were walking toward the locker room and Kellie stopped her and said, “I’ve got to take pictures of you,” Anissa Strickland said. “We took pictures of her in front of the trophies and you’re just looking at those going, ‘We’ve seen those national championship trophies but they just seem larger.’
“Kellie mentioned it’s just different being a Tennessee girl and getting to do this. That was a real neat moment of her whole visit.”
VOLLEYBALL: The team continues its stellar season and is now 13-1 overall and 4-0 in the SEC. The last two wins both came in the Magnolia State against Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The next match is tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 4) against Alabama at 8 p.m. Eastern as Tennessee wraps up a four-game road trip that started in Kentucky. The match will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
For the fifth week in a row, Tennessee players earned SEC recognition with Yelianiz Torres as the Defensive Player of Week and Caroline Kerr as the Freshman of the Week. That’s six times already this season that Kerr has been honored with four of those as freshman of the week. It might be time to just name one of the awards after her.
SOFTBALL: Fall ball is under way, and it’s free and it’s fun. Tennessee played Tusculum last Sunday and won 14-0.
Next up is Carson-Newman at noon this Saturday, Oct. 7, and Georgia State at 5 p.m. and then Charlotte on Sunday, Oct. 8, at 1 p.m. at Lee Stadium. From 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday, the Lady Vol Boost HER Club will be set up at the stadium to share information about supporting the players. Items signed by Lady Vol athletes also will be giveaway prizes.
Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.