Lauren Gibson and Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly
Oct. 4, 2011
By Brian Davis, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Coming off the program's eighth consecutive bid to NCAA Regionals and its ninth straight 40-plus win campaign, the latest version of the Tennessee Lady Vol softball squad and 11th-year co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly begin preparations for a new season with the release of a daunting 2012 spring schedule.
During the challenging slate Tennessee will face four of the eight participants in last year's Women's College World Series (defending national champion Arizona State, Alabama, Florida and California), six `11 NCAA Super Regional squads and 16 teams that received berths into last year's NCAA Field of 64.
Eight of those programs finished the season rated in the final 2011 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25 and five of them in the top 10. In all, UT will play nine games against last year's final top 10 and at least 27 match-ups against squads that participated in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
"I think this is the most challenging schedule we've had during our time at Tennessee," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "We open the season in Tempe, Ariz., at the Kajikawa Classic against five tournament teams, including the defending national champion Arizona State and WCWS participant California, and a tough UCSB team that we beat 2-0 last February. We go from there to Austin, Texas, to potentially play Texas twice and then to Clearwater, Fla., for the NFCA Leadoff Classic where more NCAA teams await. We've learned through the years from Lady Vol basketball coach Pat Summitt that to be the best, you have to play the best. Our final goal is always to prepare to be our best come time for the postseason."
This year's Big Orange softball squad returns 15 letter-winners, including seven that started at least 31 games in 2011, and also welcomes back all 49 pitching victories from the circle. UT bolsters that impressive depth with the addition of a sterling class of four high-profile newcomers.
In all, the Lady Vols return 74% of the total hits, 78% of the runs, 67% of the doubles, 75% of the triples, 68% of the home runs, 74% of the RBIs and 83% of the stolen bases from NCAA Division I's top offense by batting average (.348) in 2011.
Included among the returnees for Tennessee are (2011 stat totals in parentheses): 2011 Louisville Slugger/NFCA First Team All-American and current USA Softball Senior Women's National Team member Lauren Gibson (Junior, 2B--2011 SEC batting champion counting SEC games only at .451, .420 avg., 13 doubles, eight HR's, 63 RBIs, 12-12 stolen bases), 2011 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Top 10 Finalist and Louisville Slugger/NFCA Second Team All-American Raven Chavanne (Junior, 3B/OF--2011 SEC batting champion counting all games, .455 avg., 90 hits, 66 runs scored, 33-36 stolen bases), 2011 Louisville Slugger/NFCA Third Team All-American Ellen Renfroe (Sophomore, P--45 appearances, 27 games started, 26-7 record, 1.50 ERA, 259 K's in 201.0 IP), 2011 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Top 25 Finalist and Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Southeast Region selection Kat Dotson (Junior, OF--.401 avg., 73 hits, 54 runs scored, 10 HR's, 64 RBIs, 26-31 stolen bases), 2011 Southeastern Conference All-Freshman choice and recent USA Softball Junior Women's National Team member Madison Shipman (Sophomore, IF--.292 avg., eight doubles, five HR's, 27 RBIs), power-hitting utility player Shelby Burchell (Senior, UTL--.325 avg., 15 HR's, 54 RBIs) and 2010 Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Southeast Region selection Ivy Renfroe (Junior, P--37 appearances, 25 games started, 19-4 record, 2.07 ERA, 157 Ks in 152.1 IP).
Highlighting the Lady Vol freshman class that was rated No. 2 in the nation for 2011 by ESPN RISE are Cheyanne Tarango (P/IF, Anaheim Hills, Calif.), Hannah Akamine (C/IF, Escondido, Calif.,), Haley Fagan (P/IF, Cornersville, Tenn.) and recent roster addition Hannah Trainer (IF, Brentwood, Tenn.).
As always the early season tournament slate will see Tennessee travel from coast-to-coast during February, before again hosting an early-March event at Sherri Parker Lee Softball Stadium.
The Big Orange's campaign kicks-off at the high profile Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. During its stay over Feb. 9-12, UT is scheduled to face a daunting slate of six opponents, including the defending national champions and host school, Arizona State, 2011 WCWS participant California, 2011 NCAA Tournament teams Texas Tech, San Diego State and Western Michigan and a tough UCSB squad that played the Lady Vols close during a 2-0 defeat last February 24 at the Cathedral City Classic.
From there it's off to Austin, Texas, for the Time Warner Invitational (Feb. 17-19) where Tennessee will play Illinois, Pittsburgh and home-standing Texas before starting seeded bracket play.
UT wraps up its early season travels with a return to the annual NFCA Leadoff Classic for the first time since 2008 at a new location in Clearwater, Fla. During its stay in "The Sunshine State," the Big Orange will battle NCAA squads Georgia Tech and Illinois State as well as Winthrop, Hofstra and Massachusetts.
With the road trips out of the way it's finally back to Knoxville to christen the home schedule on Feb. 29, with a doubleheader against Georgia Southern before hosting the annual Tennessee Classic for the fifth straight season.
During the home tournament at Lee Softball Stadium, UT will bring in NCAA Tournament teams Memphis and Louisville in addition to facing ETSU, Middle Tennessee, Murray State and for the second straight year, the Dutch National Team.
The rugged SEC slate finally gets underway over March 9-11 in Knoxville as 2011 WCWS National Finalist Florida comes to town for a three-game series.
Other league series to be contested at Lee Stadium in 2012 include Kentucky (March 30-April 1, three games), Georgia (April 4, doubleheader), LSU (April 13-15, three games) and Ole Miss (April 27-29, three games).
The Orange & White road schedule in conference action includes visits to Arkansas (March 16-18, three games), 2011 WCWS participant Alabama (March 21, doubleheader), Mississippi State (March 23-25, three games), Auburn (April 6-8, three games) and South Carolina (April 20-22, three games).
Two non-conference mid-week match-ups are on the docket during SEC play with Radford and Memphis visiting Knoxville on April 10 and April 17, respectively.
Once the regular-season concludes, the annual SEC Tournament will be contested over May 10-12 at a site still to be determined.
The NCAA Tournament schedule opens at campus sites over May 17-20 with NCAA Regionals and follows with the best-of-three NCAA Super Regionals from May 24-27. The annual Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla., will be played from May 31-June 6 at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.