Coaching U.S. Elite team same as at UT for Karen Weekly

Coaching U.S. Elite team same as at UT

Tennessee coach Karen Weekly talks to players during their game of the NCAA Super Regional softball tournament against Georgia Saturday, May 26, 2012 at Lee Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 3-2. (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)

Photo by Wade Payne, copyright © 2012

Tennessee coach Karen Weekly talks to players during their game of the NCAA Super Regional softball tournament against Georgia Saturday, May 26, 2012 at Lee Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 3-2. (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)

Tennessee co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly open work in tandem on their 12th Lady Vols softball team when fall drills begin today at Lee Stadium.

But June 9-19, Karen Weekly was in complete control of her own team, serving as coach of the U.S. Elite team.

Thirty-two players tried out for five vacant spots on the 17-member U.S. National team; the 15 who didn't make it, including UT pitcher Ellen Renfroe and shortstop Madison Shipman, were assigned to the U.S. Elite team.

"In that limited time, there's not a lot you can do,'' Karen Weekly said. "It was managing the games and giving everyone a chance to show what they could do. But we were playing to win.''

Win they did, right out of the gate, stunning the U.S. National team 5-2 in eight innings with Shipman scoring two runs and Renfroe getting the win with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief on June 14 in Summersville, W.Va.

"Karen has the skills to coach any team in any place in this country,'' Ralph Weekly said. "It was enjoyable for me to see her take the U.S. Elite team and beat the U.S. National team. I was proud and pleased to see her showcase her coaching talents.''

Renfroe impressed by allowing just one hit in 4 2/3 innings, while Shipman posted a .555 on-base percentage.

"It was more relaxed, not as intense as SEC games, but we wanted to win,'' Ellen Renfroe said. "It was fun seeing Karen in that position as head coach.''

Shipman said it also was somewhat odd.

"The first time I saw Karen in colors that weren't orange, it was weird,'' Shipman said. "She said when we were playing the U.S. National team, 'We're not here to roll over, we're here to win.' She's super competitive, so it was the same Karen, just in different colors.''

The U.S. National team won the second game of the doubleheader, 9-0, and

it finished the exhibition series by beating the U.S. Elite team 1-0 in eight innings in Ashland, Ohio.

The only other team to beat the U.S. National team on its 25-game tour was Japan, which did so twice, winning the ISF Worlds in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, and the Canadian International.

"The national team was without its pro players,'' Karen Weekly said. "Put Monica Abbott in the circle, and you have different games.''

Karen Weekly's upset with the U.S. Elite team was reminiscent of her success as head coach at Chattanooga in 1999-2000.

With Ralph Weekly serving as a Team USA assistant those two seasons, Karen Weekly led the Mocs to consecutive Southern Conference titles and the program's first two NCAA bids. She also led Chattanooga to a 2-2 record against UT, then coached by Jim Beitia, who had been at the helm since the program's inception in 1996.

The victories against the Lady Vols registered with former UT women's athletic director Joan Cronan, who said at the time it played a role in the hiring of the Weeklys.

Since taking over UT in 2002, the Weeklys have not lost a regular-season game to an in-state opponent, a streak of 75 games.

This season's team doesn't figure to let go of the streak: UT returns eight of 10 starters from a 52-12 team that led the nation in defense and finished seventh at the Women's College World Series.

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