It was better late than never, but also, better than ever when the Tennessee softball team opened fall practice in its new $7 million stadium Tuesday.
"This is a luxury compared to Tyson Park,'' UT senior catcher Shannon Doepking said. "This turned out to be amazing. It turned out to be everything it was supposed to be.''
Sherri Parker Lee Softball Stadium was scheduled to be opened by the start of the 2006-07 season, but complications on the site property and construction delays pushed the completion date back multiple times.
That didn't stop the Lady Vols from playing in the Women's College World Series each of the past two seasons. UT finished 63-8, won the SEC regular season and was runner-up at the WCWS last season with former Lady Vols pitcher Monica Abbott setting numerous NCAA records along the way.
Next year's team has spent the past month working out in Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
"It's a thrill just to be out here,'' said Karen Weekly, who along with her husband, Ralph, serves as co-head coach. "They were pretty excited about today, their first team practice. The effort was really good.''
The Lady Vols would have normally started team practice a couple of weeks ago to avoid overlap with the recruiting evaluation period.
"We'll do our best to work around it,'' Weekly said. "Right now, we're working on defensive fundamentals and we had our pitchers throw to batters.
"We couldn't do any live hitting, though, because we don't have protective netting up in front of our new scoreboard, and we don't want to put any dents in it.''
The Lady Vols will host an exhibition tournament Oct. 20 and Oct. 21, with three games on each of the days against a field consisting of defending junior college champion Chipola, Volunteer State, Milligan, Western Kentucky and Methodist University.
Tennis: The 10th-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols doubles team of Caitlin Whoriskey and Zsofia Zubor beat the Illinois team of Megan Fudge and Leah Finnegan 8-0 in their opening match at the Riviera/Intercollegiate Tennis Association Women's All-America Tennis Championships in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Soccer: The Tennessee women's team tied its highest ranking in program history at No. 6 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll.
The Lady Vols haven't been ranked this high since Oct. 19, 2004.