John Adams: Lady Vols win regional and bring back memories

John Adams
Tennessee's Ashley Andrews And Shelby Burchell celebrate during the Lady Vols' 10-2 win over Virginia Tech on Sunday, May 20, in Knoxville.

Photo by Ruth Tedrick/UTADPHOTO

Tennessee's Ashley Andrews And Shelby Burchell celebrate during the Lady Vols' 10-2 win over Virginia Tech on Sunday, May 20, in Knoxville.

Tennessee's only softball shortcoming Sunday afternoon was seating.

The Lady Vols had more than enough hitting, defense and pitching to sweep a doubleheader from Virginia Tech in winning the NCAA Regional. But they could have used a few more seats to accommodate their fans at a sold-out Lee Stadium.

You don't have to be a softball fan to appreciate this team. You just have to be a Tennessee fan.

The team's appeal extends beyond its record (50-11) or ranking (fifth nationally). It provides a connection to better days at a school now struggling in a multitude of sports.

"It's all about the players," UT co-head coach Ralph Weekly said after 2-1 and 10-2 victories, which advanced his team to this week's Super Regional.

Boy, is it about the players — just as it was about the players when UT was a football powerhouse in the 1990s, when the Lady Vols basketball team went 39-0 in winning one of their eight national championships in 1998 and when baseball popped up in the College World Series in 2005. If you want to see that caliber of athlete at UT now, you need a seat at Lee Stadium.

While UT is rebuilding in more sports than not, this team is built. Four of its players have been honored as All-Americans in the last two years. Third baseman Raven Chavanne leads the SEC in batting average and hits and is third in steals, shortstop Madison Shipman is second in the conference in RBIs, and pitcher Ellen Renfroe is second in earned-run average and strikeouts. The Lady Vols started five .300-plus hitters against Virginia Tech and lead the nation in defense.

All that might not be enough to certify them as the best team in the country. But Tennessee has enough of the nation's premier players to establish softball as its marquee program.

Co-coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly have led the Lady Vols to nine consecutive NCAA tournaments and four Women's College World Series by recruiting the best players in the country. Their last three recruiting classes have been ranked either at or near the top.

Geography hasn't been a factor, just as it didn't seem to be a factor for UT football during much of the 1990s. Six Lady Vols, including Chavanne, are from California.

"She's the best third baseman I've had," said Ralph Weekly. "And that includes two Olympic teams."

Chavanne, one of seven juniors on a team that has only four seniors, repeatedly frustrated the Hokies with diving catches in fair or foul territory, had four hits in seven at-bats and flashed the speed that turned recruiters' heads as a high school sprinter in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Her athletic background is intriguing. While she seems blessed with athletic genes, she said she's the first member of her family, which includes four siblings, to play sports. But she's quick to acknowledge that her father, Kevin, has speed and her mother, Jamie, has good hands.

Her affinity for sports was as evident as her athleticism at an early age. She became a huge Los Angeles Lakers fan when she was playing childhood soccer.

"My dad took me to a Lakers game when I was 6," she said. "I fell in love with the NBA."

She fell in love with the Lady Vols about the same time, but that had nothing to do with softball. She was enamored with UT's 1998 team, which featured "the Meeks" — Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall.

"I would watch them with my dad every time they were on TV," she said. "I wanted to play basketball for (coach) Pat Summitt."

She had forgotten about that childhood fantasy until she made her official recruiting visit to UT and saw a photo of Holdsclaw. Like Holdsclaw, Chavanne has now become one of the best players in her sport while developing her skills at UT.

And like Holdsclaw, she reminds UT fans of the natural ability that it takes to compete for championships,

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 10

voloffaith writes:

Nice one Sir John with your continuing saga of reminding us of the woefulness in other major sport.....if you do an article without stating the current status of football program we will suggest you go straight to the doctor and don't collect $200 if you pass go...

On topic, again I say congrats and rest up as we need all healthy to beat the Dawgettes this coming weekend!

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Nice one Sir John with your continuing saga of reminding us of the woefulness in other major sport.....if you do an article without stating the current status of football program we will suggest you go straight to the doctor and don't collect $200 if you pass go...

On topic, again I say congrats and rest up as we need all healthy to beat the Dawgettes this coming weekend!

vol for gzus,

Absolutely. J A wouldn't be able to complete his article without a little ( or big ) dig at Tennessee's 'other' sports especially the
never ending jab about 1990's football.

Wonder if he ever played any sports?

voloffaith writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

vol for gzus,

Absolutely. J A wouldn't be able to complete his article without a little ( or big ) dig at Tennessee's 'other' sports especially the
never ending jab about 1990's football.

Wonder if he ever played any sports?

Champion Tiddlywinks at LSU I think.....mad at UT for not recognizing it...

frblalack writes:

Good article, John! Thanks for writing about the Lady Vols and not Va. Tech! Also refreshing to hear more about Ms Raven. She is certainly one of the best players in the sport! We also have probably the best shortstop and second baseman in the game as well! Surprised you didn't mention what a huge presence we have in Lauren! And the MVP might just be Ashley Andrews! Of course I could name them all but Madison Shipman is a legitimate All-American along with the others mentioned. And the most overlooked underrated player has to be Ivy Renfroe! What a class act! But let's not forget our outstanding outfield! Tori has got to be the best fielding centerfielder in the SEC, and Kat Dotson (All-American) and Ms Davin round out a splendid trio. Of course it goes without saying what an excellent first baseman we have in Ms Brown! This may be the best fielding team we've had. Hoping Ms Ellen will regain her focus and return to her dominant performances of earlier this year. We need her!

Lastly, yes we have great role players, as well. But it cannot be overstated how fortunate we are to have the Weekly's in charge of the program. Our coaching staff is second to none!

All Vols - All the Time - Go Lady Vols!!!

frblalack writes:

After reviewing my comment, I realized I had inadvertly left out mentioning the tremendous clutch player, Shelby Burchell. She's an invaluable member of our team; congrats on another great day yesterday, Ms Shelby!

Go Lady Vols - Next up, Let's kick some Bulldogs!

orangecountyvols writes:

frblalack,

Great comments. You are absolutely 100% giving worthy praise to this deserving group and their equally deserving coaching staff.

They are a joy to watch aren't they?

tovolny writes:

John, it would have been wonderful if you had given the LadyVol softballers the rich and congratulatory article that they deserve. Yet, you had to deploy the stealth tactics, or what you think are stealth tactics, to rag the football team and all the other UT sports. Again, it is obvious that you have a goal to destroy UT Athletics. However, you are making yourself look bad and tacky instead. If I were Hart, I would strongly request that you be released from KNS. I could tolerate you if you were writing for the Slidel Gazette. But you are not, you are writing for the Knoxville, Tennessee paper and particularly for GoVolsXtra. Like the BuckeyXtra site, which was set up by the Columbus Dispatch to reach and support the Ohio State fan base, the "Go" in GoVolsXtra suggest that the KNS has a site to reach and support the UT fan base. BUT, you use this platform to promote your clownish, amateurish agenda of poking fun at our university. Whether it is putting the administration, coaches, or players in a bad light doesn't matter to you as long as you can dangle the shade of negativity from Fort Sanders to the Tennessee River.

Mike Strange is a Kentucky gentleman, yet he can report on the Basketball Vols without trying to promote the wildcats. He presents interesting and relative information, both bad news and good news without ragging the team and coaches. Most readers would probably assume he was an orange clad UT person. Since he has a son or daughter at UT might be the reason, but a reader can tell he is trying to relate the information with a touch of class.

John, the only thing you have supporting you is a weak prop of objectivity. Somehow, you have managed to convince the Editor, the President, and a small minority of readers that you are holding up and showing us the real picture of ourselves. But most of us know that you cannot show a picture of reality without drawing Groucho Marks eyebrows and mustache, or drawing horns on anything that would otherwise show some good. Since the President and the Editor of KNS came to Knoxville and did not graduate from UT, probably makes this an easy task. They seem to think that you stirring up and making the fans angry is fine and dandy.

KNS, at least remove the “Go” in GoVolsXtra.

orangecountyvols writes:

tovolny,

You said it much better than I. Trouble is NY, more than likely Adams doesn't read what we think. What is important to him is what he alone thinks with yes, a dose of Louisiana thrown in between the lines.

I've tried sending him an email or two over the years, and he will in fact reply. For instance, his cute little article about the dynasty of Tennessee women's basketball being over. He loved that one. His reply to me was, "as I said, the dynasty is over."

His columns aside, have you had occasion to listen to him? He sounds just like he writes. Biggest all time joke concerning him IMO was when U T actually put him on the sideline to coach an Orange and White game, basically because he always complained about not being privy to the practices, and thus he didn't know what was going on. The media doesn't tolerate not knowing everything, as we all are aware.

ModelMaker writes:

Congratulations on a job well done. I was proud of the way the Lady Vols came back. The last game got you to the first dance. Now let's see if you can dance.

blaz2102 writes:

The Tennessee softball team is class all the way. From the girls, coaching and even support staff they definately represent the University in a manner any alumni or current student would be proud of. And if you ever get to a game you'll see the fans adore them. With all the recent turmoil at the University this team has provided our big orange heart's with pride. And as John mentioned the athletes on this team are amazing. The Weekly's continue to recruit and grab the attention and dreams of girls from around the country and world. Go Vols!! Whoop them dogs!

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