At 1,067 career victories and counting entering his 26th year as a collegiate head coach, Ralph Weekly continues to set the standard for success that his teams have championed through the years. The 2011 NFCA Hall of Fame inductee is entering his 12th season as Tennessee's head coach.
The National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) honored his efforts throughout a distinguished, three-decade career that has spanned from his time in the U.S. Air Force through stops at Pacific Lutheran, Chattanooga and now Tennessee, with a 2011 induction into the NFCA Hall of Fame. Voted in by his coaching peers and with the organization consisting of just 49 previous inclusions, Weekly joined Ithaca Head Coach Deb Pallozzi in ceremonies at the annual NFCA Convention in Las Vegas, Nev., in Dec. of 2011.
Looking at his career from just a Tennessee standpoint, the honor would certainly appear well deserved. During their first 11 seasons at the University of Tennessee, Weekly and his wife, Karen, have transformed the Lady Vols from a program searching for an identity into a formidable Southeastern Conference and national contender.
Taking over the reins at UT following a 24-35 campaign in 2001, the Weeklys have long since improved the Orange & White's fortunes. They guided the Lady Vols through a three-year span from 2005-07 that saw the Big Orange top the 60-win plateau all three times and post both a runner-up finish (2007) and consecutive third-place national finishes at the Women's College World Series (2005, 2006). Under the Weeklys' direction, UT has been to five Women's College World Series in the last eight years (2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012) and made 10 NCAA Regional and five NCAA Super Regional appearances.
During the 2010 campaign the Weeklys molded one of the youngest, if not the youngest, teams in the country into a 2010 WCWS participant that ended the year rated No. 3 in the country in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll after a third-place national finish. The duo has now led the Tennessee program to a staggering 514 wins since entering the league prior to the 2002 season, an average of over 51 wins per year, and four WCWS berths over the last seven campaigns.
*Co-Head Coach with Karen Weekly
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In an outstanding 2012 season, Tennessee made its fifth trip in eight years to the Women's College World Series. After a strong regular season which featured a 19-game winning streak into the SEC Tournament, The Lady Vols hosted both the NCAA Regionals and the NCAA Super Regionals and thanks to a loaded lineup and a stellar pitching duo of sisters Ivy Renfroe and Ellen Renfroe, UT punched its ticket to Oklahoma City once again.
The 2012 squad boasted four Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Americans in first-team picks Lauren Gibson and Ellen Renfroe and second-team selections Raven Chavanne and Madison Shipman. Chavanne became just the third Lady Vol to earn three All-American nods and she was also a top-10 finalist for the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year for the second straight season.
In 2012, Tennessee featured the top defense in the nation -- a group that lead all NCAA Division I schools with a .982 fielding percentage. UT pitchers also combined for the 11th-best ERA in the country (1.58) and the team's winning percentage ranked eighth.
Starting off the 2011 season with a preseason rating of No. 4 in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll, boasting 13 returning letter-winners from the `10 WCWS squad and bringing in the ESPN/Rise No. 1-rated recruiting class, Weekly helped guide the Lady Vols to a 49-12 overall record, the program's second SEC Tournament crown and an eighth consecutive berth to NCAA Regionals. The 2011 Tennessee squad set a new program record for single-season HR's with a staggering 69 to crush the previous high of 52 that was set back in 1996 and equaled in both 2002 & 2005. The Big Orange also led all of NCAA Division I in hitting with a .348 team batting average, was seventh in the country in scoring at 6.87 runs per game and 11th in fielding percentage (.974).
While the UT squad ultimately fell in the title round of the 2011 Knoxville Regional, a site that many experts deemed the toughest in the country, to eventual WCWS team Oklahoma State, Tennessee still boasted numerous accolades. Weekly picked up his incredible 1,000th career victory on April 10 with a 9-0 (5 inn.) win at Ole Miss. Sophomores Lauren Gibson (.420 avg., eight HR's, 63 RBI's) and Raven Chavanne (.455 avg., 32 RBI's, 33 stolen bases) as well as freshman Ellen Renfroe (26-7 record, 1.50 ERA, 259 K's in 201 innings) reaped Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-American honors, while Chavanne was also selected as a Capital One Academic All-American. Sophomore Kat Dotson (.401 avg., 10 HR's, 64 RBI's) joined that trio in receiving a Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Southeast Region selection, and Renfroe was tabbed as the SEC Freshman of the Year. Chavanne ended the year as the SEC's batting average champion counting all contests at .455 while Gibson won the SEC batting title counting league match-ups only at .451. Ellen Renfroe was the SEC ERA champion counting just league contests with a 1.42 ERA.
Following the season Chavanne, Dotson, Gibson and Kelly Grieve (.376 avg., 37 RBI's, 21 stolen bases) were each invited to try out for the 2011 USA Softball Women's Senior National Team, although Dotson was forced to withdraw prior to the selection camp because of an injury. By being chosen to the final team, Gibson and Grieve became the second and third Lady Vols all-time (Monica Abbott) to join the prestigious squad.
The 2010 slate proved a magical ride for an incredibly young squad made up of 19 players, including a total of 15 freshmen and sophomores. The Lady Vols registered a 49-15 overall record (making it eight straight 40+ win seasons) and truly peaked at the right time, rolling through their first seven games of the NCAA Tournament on the way to the program's fourth WCWS berth and another third place national finish. Along the way in NCAA action, Tennessee swept Ball State, Virginia and Louisville during the Knoxville Regional, ended No. 2 Michigan's two-year, 36-game home winning streak by sweeping two consecutive contests in the NCAA Ann Arbor Super Regionals and opened the WCWS with consecutive victories over No. 3 Arizona (9-0, 5 inn.) and No. 9 Georgia (7-5) before being eliminated by the Wildcats just one win from a berth in the best-of-three championship series.
The youthful 2010 squad was guided by a quartet of upperclassmen, including senior catcher Tiffany Huff (NFCA All-South Region choice, .312 avg., seven HR's, 45 RBIs), first baseman Erinn Webb (.318 NCAA Tourney avg., nine total HR's, 34 RBIs) and designated player Nicole Kajitani (three doubles, three HR's, 22 RBIs) as well as junior center field speedster Kelly Grieve (.373 avg., 12 doubles, 30 RBIs, 26 thefts). The team was bolstered, however, by a myriad of high-profile freshmen including Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-American outfielders Raven Chavanne (.455 avg., 64 runs, 95 hits, 26 RBIs, 37 steals) and Kat Dotson (SEC First-Team selection and Co-Freshman of the Year, .391 avg. 54 runs, 66 hits, 37 RBIs, 29 thefts), NFCA All-Southeast Region choices -- pitcher Ivy Renfroe (31-6 record, 2.41 ERA, 15 complete games, 235 K's in 232.1 IP) and third baseman Jessica Spigner (.350 avg., 14 doubles, eight HR's, 58 RBIs) and SEC All-Freshman second baseman Lauren Gibson (.297 avg., eight doubles, six HR's, 39 RBIs).
During the 2009 season, Tennessee continued its seven-year string of 40+ win campaigns by putting up a 40-18-1 overall record. Once again the Big Orange earned a berth into the NCAA Tournament, the program's sixth straight, falling in the NCAA Regionals. Led by the offensive production of Second Team Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-American Huff (.399 avg., 13 doubles, eight HR's and 67 RBIs), freshman All-Southeast region selection Spigner (UT freshman record 14 HR's) and sophomore All-Southeast Region choice Grieve (.393 avg., 79 hits, 39 stolen bases) as well as 28 victories in the circle from rookie right-hander Cat Hosfield, UT downed such foes as No. 21 Massachusetts, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 18 LSU and No. 8 Georgia during the year.
The 2008 campaign was a success as the Weeklys guided the Big Orange to a fifth consecutive 50-win season at 50-16 overall and a fifth straight berth into the NCAA Tournament Field of 64. UT advanced to the championship game of its home-hosted NCAA Regional but dropped a 4-2 decision to eventual WCWS-participant Virginia Tech.
Under their tutelage, senior third baseman Tonya Callahan (.465 avg., 62 RBIs) broke the school record for single-season home runs with 16 in 2008 on the way to being chosen as Tennessee's second consecutive SEC Player of the Year and a finalist for both the USA Softball National Player of the Year trophy and the Honda Award for Softball while reaping UT's 15th Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-America honor since 2004.
The 2007 season was the benchmark by which all future Lady Vol teams will be compared as the squad finished 63-8 for a new program-best winning percentage of .887. A third-straight trip to the WCWS ended with Tennessee becoming the first Southeastern Conference program to reach the best-of-three NCAA Championship Series, eventually finishing as national runner-up with two wins over No. 4 Arizona and triumphs against No. 6 Northwestern and No. 7 Texas A&M. UT spent a record 11 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, becoming the first SEC school to reach the lofty top ranking in the league's softball history.
Four players were chosen as Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Americans in 2007 as Monica Abbott, Lindsay Schutzler, India Chiles and Callahan each garnered national honors. Abbott also picked up the prestigious USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award and the Women's Sports Foundation's "Team Sport Athlete of the Year" trophy after registering a 50-5 record with a 0.68 ERA on the year. Chiles was the SEC's Player of the Year after hitting .459 with 44 stolen bases, while Abbott was the SEC's Pitcher of the Year. The Lady Vols led NCAA Division I in fielding percentage, winning percentage and team ERA in 2007, while picking up its first SEC regular-season title with a 23-4 league mark. For their efforts the Weeklys were chosen as the South Division Speedline Coaches of the Year, for the second time in three seasons, and as the SEC Coaches of the Year.
In 2006, the Weeklys guided the Lady Vols to a then-program-best single-season winning percentage of .836 after tallying a 61-12 record, UT's initial SEC Tournament title and WCWS victories over #1 UCLA, eventual national champion No. 3 Arizona and No. 9 Arizona State. Tennessee also led NCAA Division I in hitting by posting a staggering .342 team batting average. Pupils Sarah Fekete and Abbott led the country in batting average and pitching victories, respectively, while five Lady Vols were chosen first-team Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Americans.
The tools and chemistry were thought to be in place for success heading into the 2005 campaign, but youth abounded for UT with a roster completely devoid of a single senior. However, the 2005 season saw Tennessee reap its initial NCAA Regional and Super Regional titles and WCWS berth, tie a then-national record with 67 wins, finish third in the nation in both national polls, garner an impressive four Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-America selections and break a long-standing national mark for single-season shutouts with 51. A Super Regional sweep over No. 4 Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., and WCWS victories over perennial national stalwarts Arizona, Alabama and eventual national champion Michigan proved that Tennessee, under the direction of the Weeklys, was officially a power to be reckoned with in the softball world. For their efforts the UT coaches were chosen as the 2005 Speedline South Region Coaching Staff of the Year.
In 2004, the club notched a then school-record 55 victories on its way to its first Eastern Division title in five years and its initial trip to NCAA Regionals since 1999. Ralph and Karen were honored as the SEC Co-Coaches of the Year as UT finished with a final ranking of 16th from ESPN.com/USA Softball and boasted its first All-American in freshman hurler Abbott. The 6-3 lefthander registered a staggering 582 K's and 45 victories in her initial campaign at Rocky Top.
Tennessee continued its upward movement in the SEC standings in 2003 and notched then the second-most victories in school history with a 45-25 mark. Despite being overlooked for a spot in the 64-team NCAA field, the Lady Vols made their first appearance at the SEC Tournament in four years and eliminated top-seeded and seventh-ranked Georgia and Auburn before being ousted by WCWS participant Alabama. Year one of the Weeklys' rebuilding effort proved to be a preview of better things to come for the Big Orange, as the tandem directed the squad to a 35-25-1 overall record in 2002 and the club's first winning season since 1999. Having lost the squad's top four hitters from the previous campaign and with their projected pitching ace facing a reduced schedule in the circle due to a torn ligament in her elbow, expectations were minimal. After being picked last in the Eastern Division, Tennessee responded with the best start in the program's seven-year existence at 21-6-1.
Under Ralph's watchful eye in the batting cages, Adrianna Wilson capped off an outstanding senior campaign by being named to the 2002 NFCA All-South Region team. Chosen to the organization's second unit as a rookie in '99, the Cypress, Calif., native joined Carrie Swinford (1997, 1999) as the lone UT players to reap all-region accolades twice in her career. A first-team choice in her final season, Wilson became UT's initial all-region honoree since 1999.
On June 19, 2001, University of Tennessee Women's Athletics Director Joan Cronan charted a new course for the Lady Vol softball program when she announced the Weeklys as the program's co-head coaches. Since that day, the duo has worked tirelessly toward building UT's reputation on the diamond. "What they accomplished during their tenure at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, including five regular-season Southern Conference championships and five SoCon Tournament titles, speaks for itself," said Cronan. "They have a passion for the sport of softball and a love for the state of Tennessee that will be an asset as they attempt to turn things around. This combination should help take our program to the next level in collegiate softball."
The Weeklys arrived in Knoxville after shaping Chattanooga's softball team into one of the top programs in the South upon their arrival in 1995. The tandem piloted the Lady Mocs to consecutive NCAA appearances in 2000 and 2001, the first two automatic NCAA Regional berths ever offered to the Southern Conference champion. In 2001, UTC sported an overall record of 49-18 and was an impressive 4-1 against SEC programs.
After accepting the co-head coaching position at UT, Ralph Weekly announced in August 2001 that he would be stepping down from his post as USA Softball National Teams Director, a position he had held since 1999. Weekly began his administrative stint with USA Softball in August 1998 after taking a leave of absence as head coach at Chattanooga.
Weekly, who is nationally and internationally recognized for his skills as a hitting clinician, was responsible for a variety of national team duties, including the general management of USA Softball's elite level international programs for both men and women. He also served as a liaison to the ASA National Team Selection Committee that is responsible for the elite level selection process for Olympic, Pan American Games and other USA Softball National Teams. In the summer of 2009, Weekly accepted a position on the USA Softball Women's National Teams Selection Committee where he will again assist in choosing the members to the prestigious U.S. softball squads from 2010-12.
Between 1998 and 2001, Weekly worked closely with the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to ensure that USA Softball received adequate funding for its programs and was fully equipped with the technical assistance it needed. He was also instrumental in securing the funding for the development of a state-of-the-art practice facility at the ARCO Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. This facility has been used by all of the USA Softball National Teams and will continue to be an integral part of USA Softball's success.
Success has followed Weekly throughout his career, especially as a coach for USA Softball Women's National Teams. Weekly served as the hitting coach and Team Leader for the 2000 U.S. Olympic team that claimed its second-consecutive gold medal in Sydney, Australia. Earlier, he served as the hitting and third-base coach for the U.S. contingent that brought home the gold at the '96 Summer Games in Atlanta. Under his direction, USA Softball captured the gold medal at the 1994 Pan American Games qualifier in Guatemala. He was an assistant on teams that won additional gold medals at the 1994 World Games in Nova Scotia, the 1995 Pan American Games in Argentina, the 1996 South Pacific Classic in Australia, the 1997 Canada Cup, the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada, the inaugural 1999 America Cup in San Diego, the 2000 European Championship in Rome, Italy, and the 2001 Hawaii Cup in Honolulu.
As a coach and National Teams Director for USA Softball, Weekly has appeared in 13 international tournaments, winning a gold medal every time. His international coaching record is a sterling 130-15 (.897). He is the only person in collegiate softball to have served on a pair of Olympic gold-medal-winning coaching staffs and to have claimed two national championships as a head coach. He also directed all facets of the USA Men's National Team from 1999-2001.
He has developed High Performance Seminars funded by the USOC to establish consistent coaching philosophies for youth coaches throughout the world. In addition, Weekly has produced several instructional tapes through USA Softball, including "Fundamentals for Future Champions." In December of 2006, Ralph and co-head coach Karen Weekly released a new instructional video entitled "Hitting the Tennessee Way." In April 2012 the Weeklys will issue a new book entitled "High-Scoring Softball," the definitive guide to offensive play.
He guided the women's East team to a gold medal at the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival in St. Louis, Mo., one year after taking the North team to a bronze medal in the Festival held in San Antonio, Texas.
Previously, Weekly was the head coach at Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma, Wash., from 1986-94, where he compiled a 310-93 (.769) record and became one of the most successful coaches in NAIA history. In his nine years at PLU, his teams made eight trips to the NAIA Tournament, returning with national championships in 1988 and 1992, and a second-place finish in 1990. His 1991 team was ranked first in the country throughout the season.
Weekly was named the National Softball Coaches Association (NSCA) Small College Coach of the Year in 1993 and was a two-time NAIA National Coach of the Year in 1988 and 1992. Incredibly, he was chosen as the NAIA West Region Coach of the Year eight times in a nine-year span, covering the 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993 and 1994 campaigns.
During the fall, he also served as an assistant football coach at PLU from 1986-93 under legendary head coach Frosty Westerling. During his time spent working on the gridiron, he helped the Lutes to three national title games and a pair of NAIA national championships (1987 & 1993). In his last year he was able to share the title-winning experience with his son Marc Weekly, an All-American quarterback and a player responsible for 10,977 yards of career total offense.
Weekly began his coaching career in the United States Air Force, where he accumulated many championships at a variety of levels. He piloted squads to three All-Armed Forces World Titles, seven state titles at the United States Softball Association (USSA) level and three USSA Western World Championships.
He has served as the chairperson of the Gatorade High School Player of the Year Selection Committee and has published numerous articles in softball magazines and journals. In addition, Weekly has been a featured speaker at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) national convention and at various national baseball and softball clinics around the nation. He currently serves as the co-director of the Cherry Hill, N.J., Coaches Clinic which is the largest such event in the country. Weekly is the founder and director of National Hitting Camps, where he has taught thousands of youths in all 48 of the contiguous states and throughout Canada over the past 20+ years. He was also the Director of ASA Gold Medal Camps that featured hands-on training from U.S. Olympic staff and players from 1996-2001. Well-respected internationally as a clinician, he has represented the USA in clinics in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Italy, New Zealand and Taiwan.
Having retired from the United States Air Force in 1986, Weekly was the commander of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state in his last duty assignment. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for outstanding service in the Vietnam War. Weekly is a 1973 graduate of Arizona State University and has completed course work for a master's degree in international relations from Pacific Lutheran.