UT gals still seek softball respect
Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 4:14 pm
By: UT Sports Information
KNOXVILLE — Disrespect was a phrase thrown around a lot on Sunday night in the Tennessee Softball clubhouse following the NCAA Softball selection show.
The Lady Volunteers will host an NCAA Regional for the seventh straight season and will appear in the tournament for the eighth straight season, but the feeling in the team video room Sunday night harkened back to another selection night eight years ago where the end result was completely different.
The 2011 team entered Lee Stadium’s video room knowing that they would see “Tennessee” on the big screen.
Selection night has not always been so stress-free for the program.
The 2003 edition of the Lady Vols was en route back to Knoxville from the SEC Tournament in Plant City, Fla., hoping to receive the program’s second NCAA bid, the first at Tennessee for co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly.
“We were on a plane coming back from the SEC Tournament, illegally turning our phones on,” Karen Weekly said of the night. “We thought we were in.”
And certainly, that team had made its case. Tennessee defeated five ranked teams that season, impressive for a program that at the time had never been ranked higher than 24th.
The Lady Vols boarded the plane home for Knoxville having played four extra-inning games at the SEC Tournament, at the double-elimination event, knocking seventh-ranked Georgia out of the event before dropping a 3-2 eight-inning contest to eventual champion Alabama.
With its body of work complete, the team took to the air. Upon landing, the air was taken out of them. Six SEC teams made the field that season, Tennessee was not among them.
A year later, UT left no doubt, reeling off a record of 55-16, including a 20-8 mark in SEC play, an SEC Eastern Division championship, and the program’s first-ever top-20 national ranking. Tennessee broke into the polls at No. 18 the week of Feb. 20, 2004 and has been ranked every poll since. The team’s success brought a joyous atmosphere to selection night.
“The first time you’re just waiting to see your name pop up and a big cheer erupts because you see your name up there,” Karen Weekly said of the 2004 NCAA berth. “I don’t think you’ll ever feel like that again.”
The following season in 2005, UT made its first trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, and the bar of expectations was raised. 2011 All-SEC performer Raven Chavanne was 12 when the Lady Vols were last left out of the field. Eight years later, she thinks UT is still fighting for respect.
“This program has been to four World Series’ since then,” Chavanne said after Sunday’s selection show. “We’ve come a long way. We were the Cinderella team and underdog last year, and I don’t feel like we deserve that title anymore. But we’re going to embrace it and do the same thing again.”
Karen Weekly agreed with the sophomore’s assessment.
“Tonight is a different dynamic than the first time we made it. Now you want to see the Committee validate your work throughout the season as a team. And I think our group feels very disrespected tonight with a No. 14 seed.”
The Lady Vols of the modern day continue to build on the foundation for success that the 2003 team helped to lay. They will get to do it at home in Lee Stadium, hosting the toughest regional based on the most recent NCAA RPI.
Tennessee (13th) will face either Georgia Tech (14th) or Oklahoma State (18th) in the second game of the regional, depending on the outcome against Liberty and the Tech-OSU match-up. The only other regional to feature three teams in the top 25 of the RPI is in Ann Arbor, where Michigan (10th) will host Notre Dame (17th) and Kentucky (22nd).
The roadmap for a return trip to Oklahoma City has been drawn up for the 2011 Lady Vols, and the team’s reaction to learning the route they will have to take indicates they are up to the challenge.