Lady Vols picked to finish first in SEC East in softball

A smirk scratched at the corner of Karen Weekly's straight-faced stare.

With more than 250 eager fans bustling about Lee Stadium on Sunday as they partook in the Lady Vols' annual "Meet Your Seats" day, UT's co-head softball coach recited the goal for the upcoming 2013 season without hesitation.

"Our goal is always the same — a trip to Oklahoma City to be playing for a national championship," Weekly said.

While the overarching goal remains the same, Weekly did acknowledge a difference in this season's group — an abundance of experience.

The Lady Vols return five All-Americans, including four from 2012 in Ellen Renfroe, Lauren Gibson, Raven Chavanne and Madison Shipman. Senior outfielder Kat Dotson was a 2010 All-American.

Paced by those marquee returnees, UT returns 85 percent of its hits, 91 percent of its home runs and 93 percent of its stolen bases to a team that finished second in hitting in the SEC.

"There's nothing this year that we shouldn't be ready for," Renfroe said.

But a healthy Chavanne could be the Lady Vols most vital returnee.

UT's three time All-American lead-off hitter underwent shoulder surgery in June to repair an injury that plagued her throughout the entire spring.

Chavanne currently ranks third all time in Tennessee history with 102 stolen bases. Lindsay Schutzler, who works on the Lady Vols staff as the director of softball operations, holds the record at 120.

Chavanne has stolen at least 32 bases in each of her last three seasons and is likely to break Schutzler's record.

"Having (Chavanne) back is huge," Weekly said. "She's one of the greatest players in the history of Lady Vols softball."

SEC: The preseason coaches poll on Monday picked the No. 6 Lady Vols to win the SEC East with newcomer Missouri second, followed by Georgia and Florida.

Defending national champion and preseason No. 1 Alabama was the choice in the West with LSU second and newcomer Texas A&M third.

Alabama edged UT for conference champion.

Shooting for 800: As they Lady Vols open their season on Feb. 7 against Southern Utah, 800 is a number to keep an eye on.

The Lady Vols need one victory for their 800th win in program history. UT is 799-339-2.

Weekly also boasts a 789-273-2 career record as a coach. With 11 more wins Weekly will join 52 other softball coaches in the 800 win club.

"I wasn't aware of that," Weekly said. "Shows you how much I pay attention to stuff like that."

Freshmen Waiting: Ivy Renfroe, who recorded all six of the Lady Vols postseason wins, will join her sister, Ellen, to make up a deeper than usual UT pitching staff.

Freshman Erin Gabriel, Gatorade's two-time Ohio softball player of the year, is likely to see sparse time in the circle. The newcomer elicited national attention last season when she struck out 34 batters in 16 innings at a national high school tournament.

Sophomore infielder/pitcher Cheyanne Tarango, who Weekly said threw very well in the fall, will provide further depth in the circle.

"Our pitching staff all around looks great," Weekly said. "Our depth there is one of our strongest points."

Other than Gabriel, Weekly said she expects limited contributions from the freshman class.

Freshman catcher Lexi Overstreeet will serve as Hannah Akamine's backup behind the plate and freshman outfielder Rainey Gaffin will play limitedly as well.

"Freshman have a tough time getting into the lineup," Weekly said. "It's not that they're not great players, this is just a talent-rich squad they've stepped into."

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Comments » 3

SummittsCourt writes:

Looking forward to the season. I have a feeling this is going to be the Lady Vols year.

blaz2102 writes:

LOADED...........you wanna see a show in Knoxville this year this is it.

voloffaith writes:

Wonder how the newcomers will take to the pine since playing will be in limited roles. Blowouts their best shot other than injuries. Most of these young ladies have been it where they have played. So ,for some, sitting will be hard. I'm sure that was explained to them somewhat during recruiting. Anyway this campaign should be a good one......

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