Dec. 30, 2013
By Brian Rice
Big performances, best-ever finishes and impressive debuts all capped the year 2013 at the University of Tennessee. As the calendar year comes to a close, we look back at the year that was, including some of the memorable performances and moments of 2013.
A RECORD YEAR IN THE POOL
As in many sports, the Southeastern Conference is dominant in the world of swimming and diving. As has become the custom, SEC teams dominated the NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships in March in Indianapolis. What wasn't the custom was the contingent of Orange making a proverbial - and literal - splash in the pool.
The Lady Vols entered the NCAA meet having never won a relay national championship. In 2013, they won three of the five relays contested. UT didn't win the 400 freestyle relay, the final event of the meet, but senior Caroline Simmons, freshman Faith Johnson, senior Kelsey Floyd and junior Lindsay Gendron broke the UT school record by more than a second, coming in fourth place in 3 minutes, 12.07 seconds, a finish good enough to allow UT to leapfrog Texas A&M for the program-best third place finish in the meet.
The relays weren't the only factor that sent Tennessee to the record finish. Junior diver Tori Lamp was named National Diver of the Year after becoming the only competitor to reach the finals in all three diving events and taking second on platform on the final night. Her coach, Tennessee's longtime diving guru Dave Parrington, was named National Coach of the Year.
The third-place national finish capped a year of transition for the swimming and diving program. The men's and women's teams were unified under the leadership of Matt Kredich, who has been the head coach for the women's program since the 2005-06 season. Under Kredich, the men's team improved by leaps and bounds in 2013, reaching a national ranking of 11th during the dual meet season, including a senior day upset of Georgia. The team earned a fourth-place finish at the SEC Championships and picked up 15 All-American honors en route to 16th place at the NCAA meet.
The peers of the student-athletes recognized the effort in naming the teams the Men's and Women's Team of the Year at the annual Volscars awards in May. Kredich was named Men's Coach of the Year, Lamp Women's Athlete of the Year and Johnson won Women's Rookie of the Year.
A GAME OF INCHES
The Tennessee softball team overcame the disappointment of losing the SEC regular season championship on the final day of the season by focusing on the mission ahead in the NCAA Tournament. What followed was an eight-game win streak that put the team in the Championship Series at the Women's College World Series.
All three wins in the Knoxville Regional came via shutout, including an epic 11-inning defensive struggle against North Carolina State ended by a Rainey Gaffin walk-off triple to score the game's only run. A Ellen Renfroe and OU's Keilani Ricketts each pitched 10 scoreless innings before Madison Shipman blasted a three-run homer to center field to give Tennessee the lead. The Sooners tied the game at 3-3 after a Tennessee error and a pair of close calls gave OU extra opportunities. A homer from Lauren Chamberlain in the 12th gave Oklahoma a 5-3 win and the Sooners wrapped up the series and the title a night later.
Renfroe, Shipman and Lauren Gibson were named to the WCWS All-Tournament team as Tennessee claimed its second runner-up finish at the WCWS.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Tennessee 23, #11/9 South Carolina 21
Michael Palardy nailed a game-winning field goal as time expired to cap one of the most exciting games in recent Neyland Stadium memory.
The Vols' victory ended a 19-game losing streak against ranked teams that dated to a 31-13 victory, also over South Carolina (No. 21) on Oct. 31, 2009. It was also UT's first win over a Top 15 team since an Oct. 27, 2007 win also against the Gamecocks, who were 15th prior to that game.
On the game-winning drive, Justin Worley hit Marquez North for a clutch 39-yard pass on third and 10 to the South Carolina 36 who reeled in the grab with just one hand. Marlin Lane took over scampering for 25 yards on four plays to the one-yard line where Jones smartly let the clock run down to three seconds setting up senior Michael Palardy for the game-winning 19-yard field goal.
Tennessee 88, Kentucky 58
The Volunteers posted the largest win ever against the Wildcats with an 88-58 dismantling of the defending national champions before a sold-out Thompson-Boling Arena crowd.
Tennessee 1, Washington 0
Tory Lewis delivers a walk-off single to advance UT to the WCWS semifinal in a game postponed a day by a tornado outbreak in Oklahoma City.
MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Pat Summitt Statue & Plaza Unveiled
Pat Summitt always said one of the most important elements of success was to surround yourself with great people. Never was that on greater display than Friday morning as thousands of those great people surrounded her once again for the dedication of the Pat Summitt Plaza and Statue at the University of Tennessee.
Former players and staff members joined the current Lady Volunteer team and staff in lining the wall behind the plaza's centerpiece, a statue of college basketball's all-time winningest coach, for the ceremony. Fans crowded the streets at the corner of Lake Loudon Blvd and Phillip Fulmer Way to show their support and bask in another memorable moment in the Tennessee legend's career.
Summitt took to the podium to express her gratitude for the honor.
"This is a great day," Summitt said. "I want everybody to know that, for me, today is not about me. It's about everyone out here that loves the University of Tennessee, and we hope and pray that we can continue to do good things. I want everyone to know just how much I appreciate what's happened here today and I will never forget it. I love you all."
Tamika Catchings represented the former players on the stage and reflected in her comments on the impact that Summitt had on her life. After the ceremony, she echoed the theme of family that ran throughout the comments from the day.
"We're using the hashtag now, once a Lady Vol, always a Lady Vol - and it's so true," Catchings said. "This is a family, from one of the first point guards to ever play for Pat, to the current players that are still here. The family that we've been able to develop underneath her and her tradition has been wonderful."
Marquez North's 19-yard touchdown against Georgia
The toe-tapping, diving catch for a score was featured as USA Today's Photograph of the Year as a leaping North looks right into the camera of a photographer Jim Brown as he hauls in the catch.
Madison Shipman's 3-run home run
Shipman's shot gave UT a 3-0 lead in the 11th inning of the first game of the Women's College World Series Championship Series.
Lady Vols 'Draft' A New Teammate
The Tennessee softball team "drafted" 8-year-old Averi Ramsey as the newest member of the Lady Vol family on April 25.
The team held a special "draft party" at the Sherri Parker Lee Stadium clubhouse, where it announced the "selection" of Averi , who is in the third and final phase of two and a half years of treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The coaches and players presented Averi with her own jersey and locker as they welcomed her as an official member of the team.
UT co-head coaches Ralph Weekly and Karen Weekly worked with Team IMPACT, an organization that matches young patients with life-threatening illnesses and their families with sports teams. Averi became a fixture in the dugout at practice and games as UT streaked to the Women's College World Series and will remain a part of the team in 2014.
PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: Corey Miller's UT-Record 4.5 Sacks In Finale
On Tennessee's final defensive play of the night, Miller broke Reggie White's single-game sack record, finishing the night with 4.5 sacks after pulling down Maxwell Smith just shy of his end zone to end the game with a sack-fumble, the final exclamation point in the Vols' victory.
Not only did the play give Miller the record, it effectively ended the game. Miller hit Smith high, forcing a fumble that was recovered by fellow senior John Probst at the UK 3-yard line. A pair of kneel downs later, the Volunteers had their first road win since 2010.
Ellen Mullins' 37 digs
Mullins set nearly every defensive record at Tennessee in 2013 and was named SEC Volleyball Defensive Player of the week three times on the season, including following her school-record 37 digs against Jacksonville State in September.
Tori Lamp, 3-Time NCAA Finalist
Lamp was the only competitor to reach the finals in all three diving events at the 2013 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, claiming second place on the platform for the second-straight year.
Mikelis Libietis, No. 1 in the Nation
Libeitis was ranked the No. 1 men's teannis player in the nation late in the 2013 season on his way to being named an ITA All-American. The SEC Player of the Year helped the tennis team to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship. The Latvian finished the season ranked No. 3 in the nation. In the fall, he captured the ITA All-American doubles title with Hunter Reese and reached the national championship match with Reese.
DEBUT OF THE YEAR: Holly Warlick's SEC Championship
You can learn a lot in 28 years under Pat Summitt. The "experts" apparently didn't think Warlick had learned enough, picking a young Lady Vol squad to finish as low as fifth in the SEC in preseason polls.
Warlick, though, was unfazed. The first-year head coach impressively directed her troops to a 27-8 overall record and a 14-2 mark in league play. That effort earned Tennessee its 17th all-time SEC regular season title, and it enabled a team that saw injuries force players to miss a combined total of 53 games to advance to the NCAA Elite Eight for the 26th time in school history.
Improvement demonstrated by players not only translated into wins on the court, it also resulted in postseason attention. Meighan Simmons was named SEC Co-Player of the Year and first-team All-SEC. Bashaara Graves was chosen as SEC Freshman of the Year and first-team All-SEC. Senior Kamiko Williams was taken in the second round of the WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty.
Warlick also received national attention for her performance. The Women's Basketball Coaches Association named her the Spalding Maggie Dixon Division I Rookie Coach of the Year. She was also names the SEC Coach of the year by both the league's coaches and the Associated Press.
Butch Jones' 45-0 win over Austin Peay
BEST INNOVATION: An Open Practice for the Fans
In many stadiums, a crowd of 39,000 fans signals a fairly successful night at the gate for a game. At Neyland Stadium on an early August Saturday night, a crowd of 39,000 braved a driving rain to provide a game-like atmosphere for Butch Jones and the Volunteers in a tune up for the home opener.
The crowd, many of whom started arriving on campus hours before the start of the event to give their tailgate routines a dry run similar to the one Jones put his team through, moved to higher ground when the rains came, huddling in the seating area underneath the upper deck. But few left the stadium, electing to stay and take in the public's first look at Team 117.
Tennessee's alternate uniform was unveiled at football media day in August and proved to be a popular addition for fans, players and recruits alike. The uniforms were worn twice, in an overtime loss to Georgia and on senior day against Vanderbilt after a vote of the UT seniors.
Practice To The World
Cuonzo Martin gave Vol fans and the world a look at the first UT basketball practice of the season when he agreed to open it up to the cameras of VFL Films, who streamed live video of the session free at UTSports.com.