January 26, 2021

Opinion: The lasting legacy of the class of 2015 and Pat Summitt

With the Lady Vols loss last weekend in the Elite Eight, it meant the end to possibly one of the greatest recruiting classes in Tennessee women’s basketball history.

Pat Summit Statue, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. //Photo by Ryan McGill

 

Pat Summit Statue, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. //Photo by Ryan McGill
Pat Summit Statue, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. //Photo by Ryan McGill

With the Lady Vols loss last weekend in the Elite Eight, it meant the end to possibly one of the greatest recruiting classes in Tennessee women’s basketball history.

When the final buzzer sounded, Ariel Massengale was hit with the emotion of her Tennessee career coming to an end as she needed to be helped off the court after the loss to Maryland. It happened two games sooner than she and Lady Vols’ fans were hoping for.  For Massengale, Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison, their careers may be over at Tennessee, but no one can doubt the lasting impact they made on the program.

Massengale finished her career with 1,161 points and 418 assists. Burdick finished with 1,072 points, 794 rebounds and 21 double-doubles. Harrison finished with 1,071 points, 778 rebounds and 31 double-doubles. The group won two SEC regular season championships in 2013 and 2015 and two SEC Tournament Championships in 2012 and 2014 – as well as contributing to a 113-29 overall record and going 54-10 in SEC regular season play. The group made it to three Sweet Sixteens and one Elite Eight in their four year careers.

The class of 2015 leaves quite a legacy. They all took different paths to their last game, but ended as one of the most important classes in Lady Vols history. Massengale entered Tennessee as the first freshman declared a starter by former Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt. The Bolingbrook, Illinois native will leave UT with sole position of the No. 7 spot all-time for most three-point field goals made in a season with 74 and a member of the 1,000 point club.

Burdick played a variety of roles in her time at UT. Sometimes it was starting, sometimes coming off the bench. Whichever the case, Burdick was always an emotional leader for the team and someone that could give Tennessee a spark when needed. This year, she took over as a leader on the court and stepped up as a scorer when Harrison went down with an injury. She ends her career as a member of the 1,000 point club and one of the most beloved players in Tennessee history – a fan favorite despite what role she was playing.

Harrison knew what it meant to play for Tennessee, being from Nashville. The 6-3 center may not have come in as a big time player or the most hyped of the group, but she leaves as an essential building block and a member of the 1,000 point club. She developed into one of the best players in the SEC and in the country over the span of her career.

The biggest reason this class will be missed, and the reason it meant so much to so many, is it was the last class recruited by Pat Summitt. Although Summitt’s hands will always have an imprint on the program, without any of her players on the roster it just won’t be the same to some.

Anyone who was privileged to watch Summitt coach knows what it means to give your all for something and to always strive to reach ‘the Summitt.’ Although the court at Thompson Boling Arena will always be called ‘The Summitt,’ it was odd to think a few years ago we would never see her walk up and down the court with her famous stare again. Now, we have seen her last players end their careers. It leaves a strange feeling.

Summitt’s last class certainly left a mark on the program she would be proud of. They scored a combined 3,304 points, learned how to lead, and most importantly, they all graduated. Now that the last of Summitt’s players have moved on, a new era officially begins on ‘The Summitt.’

Edited by Cody McClure

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Sam Forman is the lead sports staff writer for the Tennessee Journalist and is a senior studying Journalism and Electronic Media with a focus on sports broadcasting and reporting. He has been with TNJN since the fall of 2014. He is also a DJ for WUTK 90.3 fm. and a member of the Rock Solid Sports team. Sam has spent six years marching in the Pride of The Southland Marching Band. When he is not covering or talking sports, you can find him outdoors, playing music or hanging out with friends. You can find him on twitter: @samWforman