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2007 LADY VOL SOFTBALL SEASON OUTLOOK
India Chiles

India Chiles

Feb. 7, 2007

If University of Tennessee co-head softball coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly could peek at an opponent's scouting report on the 2007 Lady Vols, chances are that the mention of "speed" would be referenced in practically every sentence. Whether the speed be measured from base-to-base, by swiftness of the pitch or in the violent arc of a bat, the Tennessee Lady Vol softball team does speed as well as anyone in the country. Toward that end, the Big Orange will look to utilize the major weapon they possess to dazzle fans while reminding opposing teams that taking on UT during the 2007 campaign means entering a very dangerous "Speed Zone."

In collegiate softball, speed kills. An abundance of speed can take a team to the Women's College World Series. The lack thereof can kill a team's chance to make a mark nationally. So goes the oft mentioned notion throughout the world of softball . Most of the NCAA's top teams are built around speed on the base paths, quick bat speed and the velocity delivered by the game's top pitchers. With speed as the cornerstone, co-coaches Weekly have constructed a prolific squad for 2007, their fifth season at Tennessee.

Respect for what the Lady Vols have achieved in the past two seasons, combined with 12 returning letterwinners and eight lauded newcomers for '07, paid immediate dividends throughout the softball world. UT was chosen by the Southeastern Conference coaches as the unanimous choice to win the 2007 SEC regular season title as both the ESPN.com/USA Softball and USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) polls rated the Big Orange a solid No. 2 to christen the new campaign. The rankings marked the highest preseason listings in program history and equaled the top advance in school annals. UT climbed as high as the second spot on several occasions during the 2006 run to the Women's College World Series.

As a member of one of the nation's premier softball conferences, Tennessee continues its rapid rise, going from 8-17 and a fourth-place finish during the Weeklys' inaugural season of 2002 to three consecutive 20+ win campaigns in the league and the program's first SEC Tournament title in 2006 after rolling through Florida, No. 4 Alabama and No. 12 LSU at the UGA Softball Stadium in Athens, Ga. All eyes will be on the talented squad in 2007, as the group attempts to make even more of an impact on the conference and national levels.

"We are appreciative of our preseason No. 2 ranking in both major polls, but recognize that it's our standing in May or June really counts," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "We want our players to play the game one pitch at a time and respect every opponent along the way. We especially want them to enjoy the trip and not focus on our final destination.

"We return starters at catcher, every infield position and at two of the three spots in the outfield. Another key is returning our entire pitching staff. We use the acronym "MAGIC" to challenge each player to "Make A Greater Individual Commitment." We stress preparation, playing your own best self and leaving it all on the field."

INFIELD/CATCHING:

Perhaps the youngest Tennessee will appear on the field in 2006 will be on the infield. The problem should be very minimal, however, as loads of game experience among four returning starters on the largest stages in SEC and postseason play return for 2007. There exists a wealth of depth as well as several talented youngsters ready to make their impact felt as members of the Lady Vols. A first-team All-American power-hitter will again anchor the group at first base, while three key contributors who played a large role in stabilizing the remainder of the infield during the run to the '06 WCWS return to fill out the remaining positions.

At the forefront of the group is returning first-team Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-America first baseman Tonya Callahan. As one of the nation's top power hitters in 2006 after registering a league-leading 73 RBI to go along with 13 home runs and a .365 average, the Holden, Mo., native will be expected to continue her staggering contributions in the center of UT's batting order. At first base, Callahan is one of the best ever to wear the Orange & White, as the 5-8 junior committed just three errors in 311 chances last season for a staggering .990 fielding percentage. In her career, Callahan has been on the wrong end of a fielding judgment on just five occasions to rate at a solid .993 overall.

"Tonya is an outstanding defensive player with a great arm and super instincts," UT Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly said. "She has demonstrated her clutch ability with numerous game-winning RBIs in Women's College World Series games and is always a threat at the plate."

After spending the majority of the '06 campaign at second base, Liane Horiuchi will make the step across the bag to take over for former incumbent Lindsay Schutzler at shortstop. The Wahiawa, Hawaii, native has big shoes to fill on the infield but should be up to the task after a solid fielding season helping to anchor UT's stout defense. She was originally recruited to Tennessee as a shortstop, so the switch shouldn't be of major concern. At the dish, the 5-5 sophomore should provide even more of a contribution this year with 68 starts, 150 at-bats and another off-season's worth of work under her belt. In 2006, Horiuchi hit a respectable .273 with 33 runs scored, three home runs and 15 RBI in 71 games.

"Liane possesses soft hands, very good range and a strong arm," Karen Weekly said. "She was taught excellent fundamentals as part of her Mililani Prep Youth Team and is very fluid. She has the capability to hit much better than last year as well as the occasional home run."

A speedy junior who made three starts in five games at second base for UT during the Women's College World Series will be expected to hold down that position full-time heading into the 2007 campaign. Kenora Posey, a native of Los Angeles, Calif., enters the new season off a campaign that saw her register 22 starts in 58 games played with a .247 average, 20 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. The 5-6 Posey raised her average over 100 points from her freshman to sophomore seasons. With another year's tutelage in slap hitting from coach Karen Weekly, Posey should be ripe for even more improvement at the dish in 2007. She will also provide depth in the outfield if necessary.

"Kenora has the immediate edge at second base due to her experience," Ralph Weekly said. "She is the best all-around defensive player on the team. She plays both middle infield positions and all the outfield positions. Kenora is the fastest player on the team and possesses amazing leaping ability."

The "hot corner" could be the domain, once again, of sophomore Jennifer Griffin, who made a habit of making the tough play seem almost routine (just three errors) during her 69-game stint in 2006. She will be pushed, however, by sterling newcomers Anita Manuma and Tiffany Huff. Griffin demonstrated her ability to hit the long ball last season with 10 homers and 38 RBI in posting a .279 average. Perhaps her finest moment came on the sport's biggest stage with Tennessee facing elimination against #9 Arizona State in the WCWS. The Whittier, Calif., native pounded an offering from ASU's Katie Burkhart over the right center field wall in the top of the ninth inning to lead UT to a 3-1, extra-inning victory over the Sun Devils.

"Jennifer has the God-given talent to be a top performer in the SEC," Ralph Weekly said. "She has an excellent glove, runs well and has the potential to hit for a higher average. Her home run to beat ASU at the WCWS is indicative of her ability as a hitter."

Expected, as of now, to be the back-up at first base starting the season as well as providing depth behind the plate, Tiffany Huff enters Tennessee with numerous honors from her days at Saugus High School in Saugus, Calif. She was chosen first-team All-Foothill League and All-Santa Clarita Valley (SCV) in 2006 and received a first-team selection from both the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Times. During an All-California Interscholastic League (Southern Section) junior campaign in 2005, she hit .460 with six home runs, 33 runs scored, 31 RBI and registered an impressive slugging percentage of .885 to lead her team to a Foothill League title and the CIF Southern Section Division I semifinals (third-place). The Los Angeles Times chose Huff as the Foothill League's Most Valuable Player in 2005, and she was also tabbed as a first-team All-Foothill league selection, an All-SCV first-team choice, second-team Cal-Hi Sports all-state and first-team all-area by the LA Daily News during her junior year. During her freshman and sophomore campaigns she twice earned a first-team Foothill all-league nod and a pair of All-SCV choices. Huff spent the summer of 2006 playing for Team USA's Junior Pan Am Qualifier Team in Caguas, Puerto Rico, that roared to a perfect 10-0 record to qualify for next year's Junior World Championships. She delivered seven RBI, six runs scored, a double and a grand slam in eight games played.

"Tiffany is an amazing young player who is very proficient at both the corners as well as being an excellent catcher," Karen Weekly said. "She is one of the most versatile players we have ever coached. She will hit in the middle of our order, catch and play first or third base."

Another newcomer expected to make a significant contribution on the infield in 2007, Nicole Kajitani ventures to Rocky Top fresh off being named the CIF Southern Section Div. II Player of the Year in 2006 after leading her team to the CIF divisional championship. She was tabbed as a member of the 2006 EA SPORTS All-America Team and registered an impressive junior campaign that saw her reap Louisville Slugger/NFCA High School All-America and All-West Region honors after batting .520 (53-of-102) with 53 hits, 16 doubles and 36 stolen bases out of 38 attempts. A two-time San Andreas League Most Valuable Player (2004, 2005), three-time All-CIF selection and three-time Cal-Hi Sports all-state choice, Kajitani helped lead her Cajon H.S. team to three straight San Andreas League titles and was tabbed all-San Andreas League (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006) on four occasions. The miniscule 5-2 player also known as "Peanut" reaped three NFCA All-West Region selections, has three-consecutive San Bernardino Sun and Riverside Press-Enterprise All-County nods and was twice the San Bernardino Area and County Player of the Year (2003, 2005). The Los Angeles Times also chose Kajitani to its all-area squad in 2005 and 2006.

"Nicole is very quick, mature and possesses excellent instincts," Karen Weekly said. "She will run through a wall for you. She also is very capable of playing solidly in the outfield."

Following a redshirt year in 2006 to continue her recovery from a devastating knee injury suffered during her senior season at Maryville High School, local product Allison Fulmer readies to make her first contribution for the Big Orange on the field. Listed as a back-up at first base and as a designated hitter, the daughter of UT head football coach Phillip Fulmer, will be expected to provide some depth and be ready to provide a clutch hit coming off the bench.

"Ali has a bulldog mentality," Ralph Weekly said. "She's not afraid to compete in any position on the field except for pitcher. Her forte is hitting, and she has polished her skills against Monica Abbott and Megan Rhodes in practice every single day. She is definitely one of the leaders on this team."

Another Knoxville area product, junior Caitlin Ryan, enters the new season after playing in 18 games as a sophomore for UT. The West High School graduate served mainly as a pinch runner in 2006 but made one of her few appearances at the plate a memorable one by driving a three-run bomb to left center to help round out Tennessee's dominating, 20-0 (five inn.) rout of Massachusetts in the USF adidas Tournament title game in Clearwater, Fla. Ryan enters 2007 as a back-up infielder and designated hitter.

"Caitlin has really worked hard on her hitting during this offseason," Ralph Weekly said. "Her role is to come off the bench and provide a clutch hit in a key spot. Her home run against UMass reflected her ability to produce in that situation."

Last, but certainly not least in providing depth on the infield is incoming freshman Natalee Weissinger. A former teammate of Danielle Pieroni's at Goodpasture Christian School in the Nashville area, she was tabbed as a 2006 EA SPORTS All-American as well as The Tennessean's Player of the Year. Weissinger was a part of three-consecutive Tennessee (Class A) state, region and district title teams and the 2006 state, region and district champs at the higher AA division while registering an incredible overall record of 169-20-1. The 5-6 rookie posted a .503 batting average, scored 28 runs, went 21-for-21 on steal attempts and only made four errors in 46 games during her senior campaign. She also reaped all-state, all-mid-state and all-district honors every year in softball and was chosen by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association (TSWA) to its 2005 and 2006 all-state teams.

"Natalee is a first year player with a lot of skills both offensively and defensively," Ralph Weekly said. "She will be counted upon to give us quality innings in the infield. Her potential is unlimited here at Tennessee."

The catching position will, once again, be in the capable hands of junior Shannon Doepking. As one of the finest catchers in the nation, the Acton, Calif., native has helped UT's pitching staff set numerous conference and national records in her role of leader behind the dish. She guided the trio of Monica Abbott, Megan Rhodes and Danielle Pieroni to 37 solo shutouts and a 1.12 ERA with 682 K's in 469 innings while being charged with only two passed balls. She has shown an aptitude for cutting down attempted base stealers, having gunned down 37 percent of those attempting to swipe a bag during her time at UT. At the dish there's room for improvement, as Doepking hit just .236 with five doubles, a home run and 24 RBI, but the coaches are convinced that her hard offseason work will improve that portion of her game.

"Shannon has been one of the best catchers in the country for the past two years," Ralph Weekly said. "She possesses a rocket arm and is really adept at handling pitchers. She has made a commitment to get better offensively during the offseason and has performed really well to date."

Besides depth in the form of Huff, incoming freshman Alexia Clay provides another solid option behind the plate after a storied prep career at Culver Girls Academy in Rochester, Ind. A 2006 Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-North Region selection and Hoosier Diamond Indiana Miss Softball (2006), Clay maintains hold of the state of Indiana's career home run mark (43) and career grand slam record with five. She also set the state record for single-season homers with 15 in 2006 and broke Indiana's single-season walk record by drawing 44 free passes during her junior campaign. Clay also holds the Indiana state mark for put-outs by a catcher with 1,305. She was chosen Most Valuable Player of the Indiana All-Star Game in 2006 and registered a career .549 batting average and 152 RBI. While leading her squad to a second sectional title in 2005 with a 29-2 record, the Rochester, Ind., native was chosen as a Louisville Slugger/NFCA High School All-American and a NFCA All-North Region selection as well as the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Indiana. In 2005 Clay hit an incredible .551 with 11 HR's, 38 RBI and a slugging percentage of 1.231, while 27 of her 43 hits during the year went for extra bases. She has also reaped all-state honors on four occasions with first-team nods in 2005 and 2006 and a pair of third-team selections in 2003 and 2004 while helping her team to a four-year mark of 95-13.

OUTFIELD:

Despite losing four-year outfield starters in first-team All-American Sarah Fekete and clutch postseason contributor Katherine Card, the Lady Vol outfield for 2006 is once again shaping up as a strength of the team. Two players who started numerous games in the corner outfield positions return, with a senior All-American infielder finally making the switch to center field after a long summer spent perfecting the position with USA Softball's World University Games team.

Senior India Chiles starts out the 2007 campaign as the Southeastern Conference's top returning hitter after her true breakout .437 average posted during last year's 73-game slate. In 65 games played, the Louisville, Ky., native went 66-of-151 at the dish with 48 runs scored, a .469 on-base percentage and 19 stolen bases in 22 attempts while playing flawlessly in the outfield. As a slapper in the Weeklys offensive attack, she will be expected to take over some of the departed production from Fekete at the top of the order to set the table for the power hitters while providing leadership in the clubhouse as a team captain.

"India is a tremendous offensive threat who enters this year as the SEC's top returning hitter," Ralph Weekly said. She has worked out every day over the summer in order to become an even better player. I am amazed at her bat control and speed."

Joining her in a leadership capacity in the outfield is two-time Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-American Lindsay Schutzler. After three years spent on the infield, primarily at shortstop, for the Big Orange, the Monterey, Calif., native spent this past summer getting used to the center field position as a member of the World University Games Team that won gold in T'ai-nan City, Taiwan. As one of the top offensive threats on the team, Schutzler readies for the new season fresh off another impressive campaign that saw her rank in the top five in the SEC in hitting at .409 while leading the league in triples (eight), ranking second in runs scored (72), third in hits (94) and fourth in on-base percentage (.479) with 31 multi-hit games. A team captain much like Chiles, she will be expected to set the table for the power portion of the batting order.

"Lindsay is the spark-plug of our team," Ralph Weekly said. "She's sensational both in the field and at-bat and is mentally strong while possessing a tremendous work ethic. She is a player you want at the plate with the game on the line."

According to early preseason work, Pieroni is expected to hold down the starting right field position to open the campaign with freshman Tiffany Baker providing some depth. Also among those vying for playing time in the outfield are sophomore Lillian Hammond and freshmen Erinn Webb and Anita Manuma.

Out of Girls Prep School in nearby Chattanooga, Tenn., Hammond readies for her second campaign in the Orange & White with 48 games of experience under her belt. Serving primarily as a pinch runner in 2006 due to her impressive speed, the 5-8 Hammond scored an impressive 20 runs with eight stolen bases while hitting .250 in very limited action at the dish. Primarily entering the game as a center fielder in 2006, she will be expected to be ready for action at any outfield position during the new campaign.

"One of the most improved athletes on the team, Lillian is slated to play a lot in the outfield this season," Ralph Weekly said. "She will provide our team with a very fast left-handed bat in the line-up and is another very smart player who has improved every day she's been here at Tennessee."

One of the trio of Californians in this year's freshman class, Webb ventures across the country to UT with numerous athletic and academic accomplishments in her pocket. The Hemet, Calif., native and three-time second-team All-CIF selection helped guide her high school squad to three consecutive Sunbelt League titles with records of 24-7 ('04), 24-5 ('05) and 21-5-1 ('06), respectively. She also holds five Hemet school records including hits (146), doubles (37), home runs (10), RBI (86) and at-bats (349) while boasting three first-team All-Sunbelt League nods, two second-team (2005, 2006) and one honorable mention (2004) All-Riverside County awards and three-straight offensive player of the year honors. She also owns season-highs on the diamond with a .477 batting average, 42 hits, 15 doubles, five home runs and 34 RBI all established during her senior season in 2006.

"Another young player who has a super bat, Erinn is also a very good outfielder, who possesses a strong arm and good range," Ralph Weekly said. "She has a super attitude and a very strong work ethic."

As one of two Lady Vols on the 2007 roster from the state of Hawaii, Manuma ventures all the way to Tennessee with four nods from the Interscholastic League of Honolulu (ILH) All-State Team in her back pocket, including first-team selections following her sophomore, junior and senior campaigns. In 2006 she was tabbed as the Oahu Interscholastic Association (OIA) Player of the Year after being chosen as an OIA First-Team All-Star member in 2004 and 2005. With the help of her two older sisters, Valana and Malamaisaua, Manuma guided her 2004 squad to its first-ever Division I championship and followed that up with a Division II title in 2005.

"Anita arrived at semester and is adapting really quickly," Ralph Weekly said. "She is an impact player and another who can play at any position on the field, except pitcher, and do it well. Manuma is equally adept as a hitter and defensive player and possesses a strong throwing arm. She had an outstanding prep career, has better than average speed and can also hit the long ball."

PITCHING:

For the second consecutive campaign, the Lady Vols have the good fortune of returning their entire pitching staff, replete with its 61 total victories in 2006. Under the watchful eye of Lady Vol pitching coach Marty McDaniel, the quartet of available hurlers should continue its stellar work in the circle and may have one pitcher in particular challenge some of the sport's most revered records before the season concludes in June.

A three-time Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American and the SEC record-holder for both victories and strikeouts in her career through just her junior season, senior Monica Abbott ventures into her final season on "The Hill" in striking distance of some of NCAA Division I's most hallowed marks. The Salinas, Calif., native helped guide UT back to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla., with a nation-leading 44 victories, a 0.95 ERA and 531 strikeouts in 345.2 innings of work. With a 139-29 career record and 1,716 K's, the 6-3 lefthander currently stands just 13 victories from breaking former Southern Miss hurler Courtney Blades' career NCAA mark of 151 triumphs and a reachable 550 K's from recent Texas graduate Cat Osterman's national strikeouts mark of 2,265. She has struck out 10 or more batters in a contest a remarkable 85 times in her career and boasts 16 no-hitters with four perfect games. She also gained valuable experience during the summer with the U.S. National Team while picking up gold medals at the II World Cup of Softball, the XI ISF Women's World Championship and the Japan Cup. Abbott defeated powerful Japan in the final to give Team USA the Japan Cup crown.

"Monica is a hard-working athlete who's gotten better with every inning she's pitched at Tennessee," Ralph Weekly said. "Her time with the U.S. National Team over the past two summers has made her an even stronger athlete, especially mentally. She will be counted upon to help lead our team in 2007."

Fresh off her most productive campaign as a member of the Orange & White, in-state product Megan Rhodes of David Lipscomb High School in Nashville, Tenn., enters the 2007 campaign with even more confidence in her abilities at the collegiate level. The 5-7 righthander registered an impressive 17-2 mark with a 1.40 ERA and 148 strikeouts in just 120 innings in the circle during the 2006 season. Among her most impressive victories during UT's run to the WCWS were regular-season triumphs over #24 Florida (8-0, six inn.), #9 Georgia (12-0, five inn.) and #11 LSU (10-1 five inn.). Perhaps her most important win of the campaign came in Athens, Ga., during the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, as Rhodes worked four innings of three-hit ball to down No. 4 Alabama, 2-1, and help UT to an eventual first SEC Tournament title. She struck out 10 or more batters in a contest four times and even combined with Abbott on 27 straight innings of no-hit ball with three consecutive no-hitters during a perfect title run through the USF adidas Tournament in Clearwater, Fla.

"Megan is a tremendous pitcher who sometimes gets overlooked by being on the same pitching staff with Monica Abbott," Ralph Weekly said. "This past summer she posted victories over the Japan Elite and the Netherlands, among others, and was voted the Most Outstanding Pitcher at the Canada Cup. She will be very strong in the circle for our team this year."

Despite seeing very little time in the circle for Tennessee during the 2006 campaign (3.1 inn.), another Nashville native, Danielle Pieroni, is prepared to provide some much needed relief for the squad's top two hurlers this season. The Goodpasture Christian product has worked diligently during this offseason alongside pitching coach McDaniel to ready herself for the upcoming campaign. The 5-8 sophomore spent the majority of her playing time in the outfield last season where she tallied a .258 average in 34 contests with four doubles, a triple and nine RBI. She showed solid improvement at the plate as last season wore on by hitting safely in 10 games of an 11-contest stretch against squads such as Mississippi State, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama from April 19-May 12. In the SEC Tournament opener against the Gators, Pieroni tallied a two-RBI single on the way to knocking in a trio of runs in UT's 6-0 victory.

"A gifted athlete who can pitch or play the outfield, Danielle had several clutch hits for our team during last year's SEC and NCAA Tournaments," Ralph Weekly said. "We expect this to be a breakout year for her."

The final key in the cog of UT's pitching corps is incoming recruit Tiffany Baker from East Ridge, Tenn. A two sport athlete at East Ridge High School, where she played four years of both volleyball and softball, Baker enters UT fresh off being awarded the 2006 Gatorade Softball Player of the Year honor for Tennessee. She was also a two-time all-state choice (2005, 2006), was tabbed by the Chattanooga Times Free-Press as its Player of the Year in 2005 and 2006 and appeared among the publication's "Best of Preps" listing for three consecutive seasons from 2004-06. Baker registered a career batting average of .537 while posting highs of a .644 average with 16 home runs and 61 RBI in 2005. In the circle, she hurled 15 shutouts, nine no-hitters, five perfect games and struck out 329 during her high school career. She will also be expected to provide depth in the outfield for Tennessee during the upcoming campaign.

"Tiffany is a hard-nosed player with an extremely positive can-do attitude," Ralph Weekly said. "She hit 16 home runs last year as a high school player and has shown that ability in practice to date. She will be a strong threat offensively for our team."

Another pitching recruit entering UT this season, Street, Md., product Julia Culotta, will redshirt this year and be looked to for major contributions during the 2008 campaign at Tennessee.

SCHEDULE:

As always Tennessee Co-Head Coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly have constructed a grueling schedule that will test their team both mentally and physically in preparation for the rugged postseason stretch of late May and early June. The early season tournament schedule will take the Lady Vols from coast-to-coast during February and March.

UT will open its campaign by venturing to Chapel Hill, N.C., for the University of North Carolina's three-day North Carolina Classic event over Feb. 9-11, to face East Carolina, Coastal Carolina, Penn State, the homestanding Tarheels and the College of Charleston. Then it's off on an epic 11-day journey that will take the Big Orange from the bright lights of Las Vegas, Nev., for the third season in a row and the fourth time in five seasons, to play in the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic, to Fullerton, Calif., to match up in a single contest against Cal-State Fullerton, and finally to the prestigious Palm Springs Classic in Cathedral City, Calif. In the illustrious Palm Springs event, contests against perennial national powers Fresno State and preseason No. 3 UCLA, along with match-ups against Michigan State and Oklahoma State, await the Lady Vols to grant the squad a gauge of its early season power. The weekend of March 2-4 will see the Lady Vols back near home at the Frost Tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn., as the Weeklys, former Chattanooga co-head coaches, return to the site of some of their numerous softball successes.

"We are excited to get the upcoming season started," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "This difficult schedule we have put together should challenge our squad as we prepare to enter conference and postseason play. The conference will continue to be our primary focus, as our league has proven to be one of the tops in the country. We know that any team could beat another on any given day.

"We will face off against some strong teams out-of-conference, including UCLA, Fresno State, North Carolina, Michigan State, Penn State, Illinois-Chicago and one of our NCAA Regional opponents from 2006 in Tennessee Tech. The SEC remains stout from top-to-bottom, and we finish with a tough stretch, including Auburn, LSU and Alabama. Our schedule should provide our team with the challenges it needs to improve against the best competition available."

The home slate kicks off for the Big Orange on Tues., March 6, when Appalachian State visits Knoxville for a doubleheader. The two-game set marks the final tune-up for the Orange & White before entering the rugged SEC slate.

A pair of road trips christen the league season for the Lady Vols. First up is a difficult jaunt to Gainesville, Fla., for three games over March 10-11 to face Southeastern Conference Eastern Division foe Florida before venturing for a mid-week doubleheader at Ole Miss on Wed., March 14, in a new conference scheduling quirk that has teams playing a pair of mid-week doubleheaders against league teams.

The Lady Vols next return home to the friendly confines of Tyson Park for a three-game visit from Mississippi State (March 17-18) to open a 15-game home slate. Doubleheaders against South Carolina (March 21), Liberty (March 26), Western Kentucky (March 28) and East Tennessee State (March 30), a three-contest set versus Arkansas (March 24-25) and a single match-up against 2006 NCAA Regional No. 8 opponent Tennessee Tech round out the longest homestand of the season for the Big Orange. The contest against TTU will mark the second of the season, as the Lady Vols and Golden Eaglettes will have played previously in Chattanooga, Tenn., at the Frost Classic on March 3.

A dangerous weekend trip to defending SEC Eastern Division champion Georgia is scheduled for April 7-8, before UT welcomes in Memphis (one game) and Bowling Green (doubleheader) on consecutive days (April 10-11). Then it's off to the "Bluegrass State" for the second-straight campaign for a three-game set against the Kentucky Wildcats.

After a two-year hiatus, the 2007 campaign will once again see the Lady Vols travel to the State-Line Classic in Bristol, Tenn., to meet Radford in a single contest on April 17.

In perhaps the most difficult closing stretch to a season in the entire league, the Orange & White will welcome in Auburn for three games over April 21-22 and travel to LSU for a series over April 28-29 before closing the regular-season in Knoxville with a three-game set against defending SEC regular season champion Alabama.

Tennessee will look to make its fifth consecutive appearance and defend its 2006 title in the conference's signature event when the SEC Tournament is contested in Auburn, Ala., from May 10-12. UT will also be expected to draw the program's fourth straight selection into the NCAA field of 64.

By the end of the 2007 campaign, Tennessee will have had an opportunity to demonstrate its major asset across the country and perhaps, once again, on the greatest of postseason stages. With a solid group of returnees and a collection of newcomers chomping at the bit to make their presence felt, many Lady Vol opponents will face the challenge of spending time in UT's "Speed Zone" before the conclusion of the new season.


 

 

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