May 14, 2012
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- 52 weeks ago, the Lady Vol softball team filed into the video room in the clubhouse at Lee Stadium for the NCAA Softball Tournament Selection Show. The reaction to being named the #14 seed in the field of 64 was one of stunned silence for a team that had won the SEC Tournament 24 hours earlier.
Fast forward a year, and the difference was, well, audible.
"We're pleased, we're pleased with where we are," Tennessee Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said after a loud, jubilant reaction from the seventh-seeded Lady Volunteers. "We're not cocky in any way, shape or form, we know we've got to play really well to get it done."
"I think a lot of the celebration was that we have worked so hard to get the seventh seed," senior catcher Ashley Andrews said. "We're really proud of that."
Part of the hard work that has gone into the season has been a schedule that included five of the other seven top-eight seeds in the field. The SEC led all conferences with nine teams selected, including three top-eight seeds. Tennessee will open with MAC Tournament Champion Miami (Ohio) University on Friday night at 6:00 p.m. at Lee Stadium. UAB and Virginia Tech will meet in the opening game of Knoxville Regional, with the winners meeting Saturday in the winner's bracket of the double-elimination format.
"We've been working so hard," sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman said. "From the beginning of the season, we've traveled all over the place, it's good to see our hard work pay off now."
The top-eight seed is significant, as those eight teams are guaranteed to host not only opening-weekend action, but also a best-of-three super regional, provided they advance to that round. The #7 seed represents the best postseason slotting for the program since the 2007 team was a #5 en route to a runner-up finish at the Women's College World Series. Andrews said she wants her team to take advantage and earn the Tennessee its second trip to Oklahoma City in three years, after a third-place finish in 2010.
"It's the excitement of knowing what it takes to get there and not taking it for granted," Andrews said. "This is the best seed we've had since I've been here, so we have the best chance `technically' to get there. It's about taking that opportunity and exploiting it."
For Weekly, the hard work all season long and the seeding all lead to one thing.
"We just have to bring it all on Friday," he said.