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VOL. 43 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 3, 2019

Former Lady Vol hopes to flip Lipscomb’s fortunes

By Chip Cirillo

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Lauren Sumski played one injury-plagued season at UT before transferring to Rhodes.

-- Photograph Provided

Lauren Sumski proved she could rebuild quickly at Rhodes. Now, she’ll try to do the same thing at Lipscomb University.

The former Lady Vol and new Lipscomb head women’s basketball coach inherits a team that has suffered 15 consecutive losing seasons, going 109-336 during that stretch.

Sumski inherited a 5-21 team at Rhodes and posted an 18-9 record in her first season, 2016-17. The 13-win improvement was the third largest increase among all Division III teams that season.

“I’ve been telling everyone, I don’t think we’re necessarily in this rebuild,” Sumski says of her new job. “I don’t think rebuilds are fair to seniors. We have seniors and we want them to have a great year, so we’re just trying to reset, refocus and take a new attitude into the upcoming season.”

She replaces Greg Brown, who didn’t return after going 44-164 in seven seasons.

Sumski’s record was 35-21 in two seasons at Rhodes.

“It’s just about figuring out what feels the absolute best for us and then being the best at that every day,” Sumski points out. “That’s kind of going to be our mindset.”

Sumski is Lipscomb’s first female coach in the Division I era. At 27, she is one of the nation’s youngest head coaches.

“There have been so many other women who have been pioneers for me in sports, and this opportunity would not be here if it weren’t for them, so I’m just happy to do my part,” Sumski adds. “And I’m thankful that (athletic director) Philip Hutcheson took a chance on me because he didn’t have to, but I’m so grateful that he did. And so did president (Randolph) Lowry.”

Sumski played for Pat Summit as a freshman at the University of Tennessee in 2010-11 but was hampered by injuries.

“I went in already pretty banged up and not operating at a high function,” says Sumski, who committed to UT in the eighth grade. “If someone who’s been committed to your program for years tells you that their shoulder is pretty messed up and is going to be a lesser player than you were, I wouldn’t have been upset if she would have wanted to go a different way, but she allowed me to live under her, learn under her and be a part of that program.”

Hand and ankle injuries also hindered Sumski, who played her last three seasons at Rhodes.

Even though she was only at UT for one season, Summit made a strong impression.

“She still has an influence on my every day,” Sumski explains. “There were lessons as a hard-headed 18-year-old I couldn’t understand at all and went way above my head and didn’t make any sense.

“And those lessons became habits, and those habits, now that I’m older and more mature, have become values that I try to instill in my team in my own way.”

Summit won 1,098 games and eight NCAA championships.

“If you asked what’s important to Pat, Pat would say God, family and basketball, and I’m able to live out those three things each and every day,” adds Sumski, who averaged 2.6 points for UT, which went 34-3 with a Southeastern Conference title and an NCAA Elite Eight appearance during her freshman season.

Rhodes’ record was 50-8 in Sumski’s last two seasons as a player. She averaged 25.6 points as a senior and finished with 1,373 career points.

She started her coaching career as an assistant at Union, where she worked for three seasons.

During her high school days, Sumski was a two-time Miss Basketball at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, where she once had a quadruple-double.

Her husband, Chris, was one of her assistant coaches at Rhodes, and he will be in the same role at Lipscomb.

“I definitely think I’m defensively-oriented, which is pretty funny because a lot of my teams were gifted more toward offense,” Sumski says of her coaching style. “But I’m more geared toward having complete teams. I don’t think you can be good on just one side of the ball.”

Hutcheson received some good recommendations about Sumski.

“Before I met Lauren, I had several people tell me that she was on her way to great things in the coaching profession and that we had to make sure to meet with her ASAP,” Hutcheson told the Lipscomb website.

“Those people commented on her energy, her intelligence, her ability to connect with others and her high emotional and basketball IQ, and those involved in the process all found that to be the 100 percent truth.

“From the very first phone call to our final meeting before the offer, her preparation, poise and personality all pointed to her being a great fit here.”

Sumski was a pre-med student at Rhodes but decided to enter coaching instead.

“Medicine led me to Rhodes, which led me to coaching,” Sumski says. “I felt called to do it and I never feel like I’m working a day in my life. Every day I’m on the playground, and it’s just getting to do the best job in the world.”

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