VOLeaders Academy Welcomes Largest Class Ever for 2021-22

Vol Leaders / Credit: UT Athletics

The University of Tennessee Athletics Department recently selected its VOLeaders Academy Class of 2021-22. Following the success of last year’s expansion, this year’s program will be split into two cohorts that will participate simultaneously.

The seventh annual collection of VOLeaders is the largest in the history of the program, comprising 45 student-athletes that represent each of Tennessee’s 20 varsity sports. The year-long leadership curriculum begins annually starting with the Fall semester and concludes with an international cultural exchange trip in the summer.

Previous cohorts traveled to Vietnam, Brazil, Ecuador and Rwanda before the global COVID-19 pandemic prevented a trip in 2020. Planning for this summer’s trip is underway, and the destination will be announced soon.

The cultural exchange trip for this newly announced VOLeaders cohort, set for the summer of 2022, is targeted for Botswana in Southern Africa.

The complete 2021-22 VOLeaders cohort includes: Jordan Beck (baseball), Carly Briggs (women’s tennis), Madison Bryant (volleyball), Elle Caldow (women’s swimming & diving), Ivy Davis (softball), Jared Dickey (baseball), Tess Darby (women’s basketball), Morgahn Fingall (volleyball), Thomas Gardiner (men’s track & field), Pakk Garland (football), Joel Giraudeau (men’s swimming & diving), Jake Hall (men’s golf), Bryden Hattie (men’s swimming & diving), Natalie Hayward (volleyball), Jimmy Holiday (football), Kara Holt (women’s swimming & diving), Joe Hoots (men’s track & field), Trenton Johnson (men’s golf), Joseph Jordan (men’s swimming & diving), Alex Kay (men’s track & field), Shelby Liford (women’s golf), Joella Lloyd (women’s track & field), Margaret Marando (women’s swimming & diving), Lucy Marret (rowing), Cooper Mays (football), Eleonora Molinaro (women’s tennis), Johannus Monday (men’s tennis), Maria Nelson (soccer), Olivier Nkamhoua (men’s basketball), Rafael Ponce de Leon (men’s swimming & diving), Lindsey Romig (soccer), Haley Savastano (rowing), Sydney Seymour (women’s track & field), Doneiko Slaughter (football), Jabari Small (football), Marta Suarez (women’s basketball), Charlie Taylor (baseball), Jaida Thomas (soccer), Omari Thomas (football), Natalie Ungaretti (women’s swimming & diving), Santiago Vescovi (men’s basketball), Mikele Vickers (women’s track), Giselle Washington (soccer), Rylie West (softball) and Byron Young (football).

What Tennessee Coaches are Saying About VOLeaders Academy

“This is an invaluable experience for our student-athletes in their overall development. When I first learned of the history behind VOLeaders, I immediately thought about how unique and special a program of this caliber is. Few student-athletes get this kind of opportunity in a lifetime, and we are fortunate at Tennessee that we can provide this experience to them. I know our VOLeaders group will learn and grow from this prestigious honor.”

— Josh Heupel, Football Head Coach


“It’s so easy to get sucked into what’s right in front of you that you forget what the world has to offer around you. The happiest and most fulfilled people I know are selfless people who serve their families, friends, teammates and communities.

“Transformational leadership is one of the four frameworks of leadership that is taught in VOLeaders. In addition to what Carly Briggs will do away from the tennis court, this type of leadership is where I really think she will grow. She can identify what changes need to be made on our team, she can help to create a vision of what that change looks like, and then, as a player, will help influence and inspire our program to execute that change.

“Servant leadership is another one of the four frameworks of leadership taught in VOLeaders. Eleonora Molinaro is one of the most selfless people I have ever met. She’s from Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, and through sport, has experienced life in so many different countries. She knows better than most student-athletes what it means to embrace other cultures and how to make the most out of uncomfortable situations. Although Elé has experienced so much, she has mainly done it with her family. I am thrilled for Elé to get the opportunity to experience positive social change, through sport, with new friends she will make over the next year.

“Five of our eight scholarship players are in Elé and Carly’s class. I am certain the concepts those two learn will help influence our program immediately.

“Joe Scogin and his staff have done an amazing job teaching our student-athletes how to compete in life. I have noticed a positive change in our student-athletes who have been a part of VOLeaders, and I am thrilled for Carly and Elé to experience this opportunity together.”

— Alison Ojeda, Women’s Tennis Head Coach


“The VOLeaders program continues to be an asset within our athletics department. First and foremost, our kids who go through the program learn so much about themselves—both as people and as leaders, which in turn puts them all in a better place to be effective leaders within our team. They learn to be strong and secure while also being vulnerable and empathetic—all characteristics of effective leadership.”

— Brian Pensky, Soccer Head Coach

About the VOLeaders Academy

The University of Tennessee announced the inception of its VOLeaders Academy in July of 2015. The first-of-its-kind program is a dynamic partnership between the Division of Student Life, the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences and the Athletics Department.

By using their platform in sport, student-athletes admitted into the VOLeaders Academy learn how to positively impact their team, campus and local and global communities. The program aims to inspire student-athletes to find ways to use their passion of sport and their influence to enact positive change that transcends their athletic success.

Since 1968, the Torchbearer—UT’s official symbol—has borne silent witness to the university’s Volunteer Creed: “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.” The VOLeaders Academy takes that creed in action by engaging its participants in the understanding and development of servant leadership.

Participants are enrolled in two three-credit-hour courses in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. A Leadership in Sport course provides students with an understanding of their individual leadership styles, the practice of leadership in collegiate athletics and equips them with the foundational skills necessary to lead their teams, campus and communities, while a Sport for Social Change course teaches leadership principles, professionalism, critical thinking, and cross-cultural communication skills through sport-based service.

The final component of the VOLeaders Academy is a 10-day international exchange providing applied leadership and service opportunities focused on community development and social change through sport. International destinations vary each year.

The expansion of the VOLeaders Academy in 2020 was made possible through the generous and servant hearts of 1980 Tennessee alums Donnie and Terry Smith from Rogers, Arkansas. The Smiths’ passion and vision was to infuse a foundation of servant leadership in a greater percentage of Tennessee’s student-athlete population. Their sincere and heartfelt leadership to make a difference in UT student-athletes will create life-changing opportunities for all that come through the VOLeaders Academy.

For more information on The VOLeaders Academy, visit the website HERE.

-UT Athletics