Feb. 13, 2010
BY CHRIS WHITE
Wednesday was a good day to be inside.
Outside temperatures hovered in the mid-20s while a stiff breeze made it feel much colder. Yet the Lady Vols softball team had the fortune of finishing game-week preparations in the controlled climate of the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
Inside, the ping of aluminum bats and the thud of the ball hitting the catcher's glove reverberated in the complex. There were occasional yells of enthusiasm from the team, as well as the ever present sound of the coaches' encouragement and teaching.
There were the unmistakable sounds of the spring sports season being right around the corner.
Senior All-American catcher Tiffany Huff says there is excitement and anticipation as the team begins its season Saturday in Florida.
"We've been working so hard refining everything, and now we're ready to put everything into practice," Huff said.
Their goal is simple: give everything you have.
"We want to dominate no matter who's out there," Huff said. "So basically just play as hard as you can and leave out on the field."
The Lady Vols were picked to place 3rd in the SEC East this season behind two-time SEC champ Florida and nationally ranked Georgia. Tennessee hasn't beaten Florida since 2007.
Co-head coach Ralph Weekly is optimistic about his group.
"I feel pretty good about this team," Weekly said. "Sometimes this time of year you don't feel very confident, but this is a good young team, they've prepared hard."
Youth is abundant. Ten of 19 players are freshman, and the team's youthfulness is particularly noticeable at pitcher. True freshman Ivy Renfroe was scheduled to start against No. 3 Michigan on Friday -- cancelled due to rain -- in the NTC Division I Elite Invitational. Sophomore Cat Hosfield, an All-SEC Freshman last year, will also see a great deal of playing time in the upcoming tournament.
"How fast (Renfroe and Hosfield) mature is going to be how fast we mature as a team," Weekly said.
On the whole, Weekly has been impressed with the freshman class.
"We've got four or five freshmen that are really playing really, really well. I think the future is really bright and the youngsters are a big key to that," he said.
Huff led Tennessee in batting average (.399) last season, Kajitani is the primary utility player, Webb is perhaps the teams most versatile defender and Grieve claimed Tennessee's single-season sophomore record for stolen bases last year.
Coach Weekly won't predict wins and losses for his young club, but he is confident that opening against quality competition and learning against teams ranked higher than Tennessee will be beneficial.
"I think come April or May this team is going to be a real contender," Weekly said.