Tennessee was the first true power in the NCAA era of women’s basketball. Guided by late legend Pat Summitt, who built a program into the gold standard of women’s basketball during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, the Lady Vols have won eight national championships — second most in NCAA history.
Of course, great players help build great programs. Here’s our 20 best in the history of Tennessee women’s basketball — listed in chronological order.
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Patricia “Trish” Roberts, Forward (1976-77)
Tennessee was actually the third school that Roberts played for during her collegiate career. However, her only season with the Volunteers was one for the ages as the first Black player in the history of the Lady Vols’ program. In Roberts’ first game at Tennessee against Kentucky, she posted 51 points — still a school single-game record — and 20 rebounds. Later that season, the All-American also set the school single-game record with 24 rebounds. Her 987 points, 29.9 scoring average, and 14.2 rebounds per game from 1976-77 all remain school records.
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Cindy Brogdon, Forward (1978-79)
University of Tennessee Women’s Basketball
Brogdon’s college basketball career began at Mercer, but she eventually found her way to Knoxville to star for the Vols in her final two seasons. Brogdon’s 20.8 career scoring average ranks second all-time in school history, while her 784 total points rank fifth among all Tennessee players. Brogdon was also one of the best free-throw shooters in Vols history, making 83.9 percent of her attempts from the stripe — fourth all-time at Tennessee.
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Holly Warlick, Guard (1976-80)
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The first of six Tennessee players to have her jersey retired by the program, Warlick is essentially a Volunteers lifer. Born in Knoxville, Warlick walked on at the Tennessee program, and then became a three-time All-American for Pat Summitt, whom she succeeded as Vols coach.
While not known for her scoring ability, Warlick ranks second in school history with 673 assists. She also ranks ninth with 250 career steals, but her 3.2 assist average and 141 steals from 1978-79 are the best all-time from any Lady Volunteer. A long-time assistant under Summitt, Warlick went 172-67 and reached the regional finals three times during her seven-year tenure as head coach at Tennessee.
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Jill Rankin, Center (1979-80)
One of a host of Tennessee players who also starred for the United States national team. Like Trish Roberts, Rankin’s Volunteers tenure spanned just one season after spending her first three at Wayland Baptist College. But in that one season, the 6-foot-3 Rankin averaged a team-leading 19.2 points and 7.3 rebounds. The All-American’s 730 total points scored in 1979-80 rank seventh in school history.
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Cindy Noble, Center (1978-81)
Entering the 2021-22 season, Noble ranked 20th in Tennessee history with 1,561 career points. Her 15.2 scoring average in three seasons with the Vols ranks 10th all time. Noble, who led Tennessee in scoring (14.5 points per game) for the 1980-81 season, holds the second-highest career field-goal percentage (62.5) by any Tennessee player. The Hall of Famer’s 67.9-percent effort from the field in 1979-80 remains the highest for a single-season in program history.
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Tanya Haave, Forward (1981-84)
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The true beginning of Tennessee’s dominance in the women’s game came in the early 1980s, when the program reached the NCAA Final Four in 1982 and ’84 — the latter squad finishing as the national runner-up. Haave was a force during those seasons, averaging 13.8 points and 5.9 rebounds for her four-year career. The All-American’s best season came in 1982-83, when she averaged a team-leading 18.6 points (746 points tied for sixth all time) and 7.4 boards.
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Bridgette Gordon, Forward (1986-89)
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In the annals of Tennessee basketball, Gordon is among the elite. Gordon, a member of the program’s first NCAA national championship team from 1987 and also the ’89 title-winning squad, ranks second in school history with 2.462 points. Her 18 points per game career average is sixth all time. She also ranks second in career made field goals (1,017) and seventh in made free throws (423). The Hall of Famer won gold as a member of the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team and had her No. 30 retied by the university.
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Daedra Charles, Center (1989-91)
A two-time All-American and Wade Trophy Award winner, Charles won two national titles with the Lady Vols (1989, ’91). She ranks 24th in school history with 1,495 points (14.2 per game) and pulled down 858 boards (8.2) during her three-year Tennessee career. Charles, who shot 55.2 percent and recorded 95 blocks while at Tennessee, later returned to Knoxville as an assistant coach. Sadly, Charles passed away in 2018 at age 49 from an undisclosed cause. Her No. 32 was retired by the school.
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Dena Head, Guard (1989-92)
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Head certainly left her mark at Tennessee. She won two national titles (1989, ’91), scored 1,483 points (11.0), and her 439 assists (3.4) spanning four collegiate seasons rank ninth in school history. Head, who also averaged 4.7 career rebounds, was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 1989. Then, she earned the league’s player of the year award as a senior. She was both a Naismith All-American and Kodak All-American.
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Nikki McCray, Forward (1992-95)
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McCray was a three-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medal winner. She laid the foundation for that success at Tennessee. The twice-named SEC Player of the Year (1994,’95) averaged 12.4 points and 5.3 rebounds during her four-year career for the Volunteers. She was one of the of most exciting players in Tennessee history, quick with the ball and a strong defender, whose 289 career steals are fifth-most in school history.
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Michelle Marciniak, Guard (1993-96)
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Marciniak began her collegiate career at Notre Dame, but she made her name at Tennessee. After all, it made sense since Pat Summitt went into labor at the Marciniak family home during a recruiting trip. In her three seasons with the Lady Vols, the feisty point guard scored 1,004 points, recorded 204 steals (ranks third in school history), and posted 234 steals (10th in school history). Perhaps the highlight of Marciniak’s Tennessee tenure was being named Final Four Most Outstanding Player in 1996, during the program’s fourth national championship run.
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Chamique Holdsclaw, Forward (1995-99)
Quite simply, Holdsclaw is the best player to come out of the Tennessee women’s program. A three-time national champion, two-time Naismith Award winner, and two-time Player of the Year by The Associated Press, Holdsclaw is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 3,025 points, rebounder at 1,295, and in double-doubles with 57. Also, no Lady Vol has made more field goals than Holdsclaw’s 1,233. Her No. 23 has been retired by the school and remains an ambassador for both Tennessee and women’s basketball.
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Tamika Catchings, Forward (1998-01)
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When it comes to women’s basketball royalty, Catchings is certainly part of the court. She is a WNBA MVP, 10-time league All-Star, and four-time Olympic gold-medal winner. The levers to all of those achievements were put into motion at Tennessee. Catchings ranks fourth in school history in points (2,113), fourth in made field goals (760), fourth in made free throws (471), sixth in total rebounds (1,004), and third in seals (311). The Naismith Award winner and AP Player of the Year in 2000, Catchings was the fourth Lady Vol to have her jersey (No. 24) retired.
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Semeka Randall, Guard (1998-01)
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While Randall ranks seventh all time on Tennessee’s scoring list with 1,915 points, her legacy is largely defined as being one of college basketball’s best defenders. Part of the Lady Vols 1998 national title team and the third member of “The Meeks,” with Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings, Randall recorded 286 career steals (ranked sixth in school history), and her 102 during the 1997-98 season are still a record from a Tennessee freshman. Randall, a two-time First Team Kodak All-American (1999, 2000), is currently the head coach at Winthrop University.
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Kara Lawson, Guard (2000-03)
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Sixth in scoring at Tennessee with 1,950 points, Lawson averaged 13.6 points during her four seasons in Knoxville. One of the best pure shooters in the history of the program, Lawson ranks third with 256 career made 3-pointers and second with a 41.5 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. She also ranks sixth in career assists (456). An All-American in 2003, Lawson helped the Lady Vols make three Final Fours during her collegiate career.
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Shanna Zolman, Guard (2003-06)
When it comes to college 3-point shooters, there still aren’t many better than Zolman. Sitting 13th in school history with 1,706 career points, Zolman shot a Tennessee-best 42.5 percent from 3-point range and ranks second with 266 long-distance buckets during her four seasons in Knoxville. Zolman’s 103 made threes from 2005-06 remain a school single-season record, and the most made by any Tennessee senior.
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Candace Parker, Forward (2006-08)
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It’s safe to say that Parker is on the Mount Rushmore of Tennessee women’s basketball. The most recent Lady Vol to have her jersey (No. 3) retired, Parker, who averaged 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds during her three collegiate seasons, is a two-time AP Player of the Year and Wooden Award (2007, 2008). She was also the ’08 Naismith College Player of the Year. She ranks third in school history with 2,137 career points, first in made free throws (526) and blocks (275), and dunked the basketball seven times while at Tennessee. In the history of women’s college basketball, Parker is among the greatest to ever play the game.
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Glory Johnson, Forward (2009-12)
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Johnson averaged 11.7 points and ranks third in school history with 493 made free throws while at Tennessee, but she was best known for her stellar defense and ability to clean the boards at a high rate. Only Chamique Holdsclaw has pulled down more career rebounds at Tennessee than Johnson’s 1,218. The 359 she recorded in 2010-11 are the most of a Tennessee junior. Her 8.7 rebounding average is the fourth-best among all Lady Vols.
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Shekinna Stricklen, Guard-Forward (2009-12)
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Stricklen did a little bit of everything during her four seasons. And she did it all well. She averaged 13.5 points, and her 1,882 career total rank eighth in school history. Her 692 made field goals are 10th all time at Tennessee while her 163 made 3-pointers sit sixth in the annals of Lady Vols basketball. Stricklin also pulled down an average of 6.5 career rebounds and totaled 370 assists. That collegiate resume made Stricklen the second overall pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft.
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Meighan Simmons, Guard (2011-14)
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Simmons might not bring the brand-name cache like other stars on this list, but she certainly put together quite the legacy while at Tennessee. She ranks fifth all-time with 2,064 points — the most recent Lady Vol to top the 2,000 mark — and averaged 16.8 as a junior and 16.5 in her final 2013-14 campaign. That year, she was tabbed SEC Player of the Year. Simmons’ 746 career field goals are tied for sixth-most in school history, and her 255 made 3-pointers rank fourth.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.