Feb. 5, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Coming off an outstanding 2012 season highlighted by its fifth appearance in the Women's College World Series in the last eight years, the No. 6/5 Tennessee softball team opens its 2013 season this week and the Lady Vols are primed to make another run at a national title.
Tennessee starts the season at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah, where the team will face Southern Utah, Idaho State, Utah State, South Dakota, BYU and Oklahoma State from Feb.7-10.
UT is ranked No. 6 in the preseason USA Today/NFCA poll and No. 5 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll. UT was also picked to win the SEC Eastern Division by the league's coaches.
Tennessee leads the nation with four Lady Vols named to USA Softball's Top 50 "Watch List" for the 2013 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. That list includes Raven Chavanne, Lauren Gibson, Ellen Renfroe and Madison Shipman. UT also led the SEC with four preseason all-conference picks in Chavanne, Gibson, Shipman and Kat Dotson.
Tennessee is also on the cusp of some major milestones. The UT softball program has 799 wins, so the next victory will mark No. 800. Co-head coach Karen Weekly has 789 wins, 11 shy of 800. Co-head coach Ralph Weekly has 1,067 wins, 33 shy of 1,100. The Weeklys have 566 wins at UT, so 34 wins will push them over 600. Three-time All-American Chavanne enters 2013 as UT's current career leader in career batting average (.444) and on-base percentage (.507). Her 102 stolen bases rank third on the Lady Vols' all-time list and she is within range to break Lindsay Schutzler's record of 120.
The Lady Vols are regulars in the national spotlight and will have seven regular season games televised this year. UT's March 16 game at SEC foe No. 14/15 Florida on ESPNU will be the first softball game of the year covered by ESPN.
Tennessee features 13 returners and six newcomers. The Lady Vols bring back the core of their 2012 Women's College World Series team, including 2012 Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Americans Raven Chavanne, Lauren Gibson, Ellen Renfroe and Madison Shipman.
UT returns seven positional starters and three pitchers from last year's squad, including every leader in major hitting and pitching statistical categories. Tennessee also welcomes six exciting freshmen in Jennifer Burroughs, Erin Gabriel, Rainey Gaffin, Lexi Overstreet, Anna Renfroe and Haley Tobler. The Lady Vols' freshman class features three players in the 2012 ESPN 100: Gaffin (No. 16), Overstreet (No. 45) and Gabriel (No. 71).
Here's a position-by-position breakdown of the 2013 Tennessee softball team:
Tennessee boasted the nation's top fielding percentage (.982) in 2012, thanks in large part to its outstanding infield.
At first base, junior Melissa Davin looks to start the season at first after playing most of 2012 in the outfield before moving to DP. Davin hit .280 with eight homers, 29 RBI and 19 runs as a sophomore and was UT's top hitter in the 2012 fall games. She had 12 starts at first base as a freshman in 2011. Sophomore Cheyanne Tarango, who had 14 starts at first as a rookie, and freshman Rainey Gaffin will back up Davin.
Two-time first-team All-American and senior second baseman Lauren Gibson will look to conclude her UT career as one of the program's most decorated players. Gibson hit .314 last year with 46 RBIs and a team-high 13 homers. She played stellar defense in 2012, committing just two errors in 66 games. Sophomore Hannah Trainer and freshman Erin Gabriel will back up Gibson.
All-American junior Madison Shipman returns at shortstop and will look to build off her breakout 2012 campaign when she hit .311 with a team-high 23 extra-base knocks (10 homers, 11 doubles, two triples). Senior Melissa Brown and freshman Jennifer Burroughs will back her up.
Three-time All-American and two-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year top-10 finalist Raven Chavanne is back to work third base. Chavanne hit .422 in 2012 to take the SEC's batting crown for the second straight year. Her .444 career batting average and .507 career on-base mark rank first in UT's record books and with 102 stolen bases, she is in range to break Lindsay Schutzler's school record of 120. Sophomore Hannah Akamine and rookie Anna Renfroe will be Chavanne's backup at the hot corner.
Behind the plate, the team will look to replace the leadership recently-graduated Ashley Andrews provided in 2012. Sophomore Hannah Akamine has looked primed to step into that role this preseason. Akamine had 16 starts at catcher as a freshman and drove in 11 runs in 66 plate appearances. Freshman Lexi Overstreet and Brown will back up Akamine at backtop.
The Lady Vols return two-thirds of UT's 2012 starting outfield, which committed just three errors.
Senior and 2010 All-American Kat Dotson is set to patrol right field. Dotson hit .350 as a junior and she is on pace to finish in Tennessee's top 10 in eight offensive categories. Rookies Haley Tobler and Overstreet will back up Dotson in right.
Speedy junior Tory Lewis returns to center field after making big strides 2012. Lewis hit .288 and stole seven bases last year. Gaffin will back up Lewis in center.
In left field, versatile senior Melissa Brown provides a dependable bat (.275 BA, five homers, 33 RBIs in 2012) in the lineup and good fielding. Reliable senior Whitney Hammond and Davin will back up Brown in left.
At designated player, UT will seek to replace recently-graduated Shelby Burchell. Cheyanne Tarango looks to step into that spot after totaling seven extra-base hits and 11 RBIs last year. Davin and Gabriel may also see some time at DP.
Tennessee brings back 100 percent of its pitching from last season, including the dynamic tandem of sisters Ellen Renfroe and Ivy Renfroe. Add sophomore Cheyanne Tarango and freshman Erin Gabriel and the Lady Vols very deep in the circle and the coaches feel comfortable starting any of the four.
Ellen Renfroe is a two-time All-American who went 27-5 with a 1.24 ERA and 280 strikeouts in 47 appearances (36 starts). Opposing batters hit just .179 against her.
Ivy Renfroe, a senior, was a true workhorse for UT in the NCAA Tournament. In NCAA play, she amassed a 6-2 record with a 1.29 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 48.2 innings of work.
Tarango and Gabriel have both won gold with the U.S. Junior National Team and both have been impressive in the preseason, giving Tennessee the possibility of four high-quality starters.