At the conclusion of fall play, Ralph Weekly's belief has been reconfirmed — Melissa Davin understands the significance of hard work.
"She works hard, she has had some success in the past and is improving," said the Tennessee softball co-head coach.
And one of Davin's most successful moments last season is what she is using as motivation to continue to get better this season. That moment came on college softball's biggest stage.
"I'll always remember that at-bat," Davin said.
On May 31, the then-sophomore inched into the batter's box.
Tapping the outside corner of home plate with the barrel of her bat, Davin eyed down Alabama All-American Jackie Traina waiting in the circle.
In UT's first game of the Women's College World Series, Davin blasted a two-run homer that Weekly believes to be a sign of her career to come in Knoxville.
"We knew that Davin was going to be one of those kids that stepped up this year," Weekly said. "Her homer versus Alabama signaled that to me."
And at the conclusion of the Lady Vols' eight exhibition games — Weekly's signal is beckoning.
"She is just coming into her own," Weekly said. "We believe she can be a very successful hitter in the SEC and she continued to prove that."
Davin had a team best 17-for-30 performance at the plate, driving in 12 during the eight-game stretch.
While Weekly is the first to admit that fall competition is far from SEC play, leading a team that returns four All-Americans in batting average, RBIs and home runs is no small feat.
"She had a very nice fall," Weekly said. "She hit very well."
Davin said she uses her World Series at-bat as a reminder to what she is training for with the regular season approaching.
"You never know what position you are going to be in," Davin said. "You train now so you are prepared for those kind of situations down the road."
Outside Davin, Weekly said he is pleased with the Lady Vols' efforts, especially considering the absence of senior third baseman Raven Chavanne.
"I don't think there was a single player that didn't meet their individual expectations,"
Weekly said. "I am pleased and we had to go through it without (Chavanne). She is the person that makes us go."
Chavanne underwent shoulder surgery last spring to repair an injury that plagued her throughout the year.
She is expected to recover by the start of the season, and the Lady Vols' All-American leadoff hitter figures to take on an increased leadership role — an area Weekly feels is lacking.
"We graduated our leadership last year," Weekly said. "We struggled a little bit getting that back."
Luckily for Weekly and the Lady Vols, they didn't graduate their offensive production.
UT returns 10 players who made up 91 percent of its home runs last spring.
"We have a lot of good players," senior second baseman Lauren Gibson said. "We can step up as leaders."
Riley Blevins is a freelance contributor.