John Adams: Despite runner-up finish, softball remains UT's best title opportunity

John Adams
University of Tennessee Lady Vols softball player Anna Renfroe greet fans as the team returns from the Womens College World Series, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. The Lady VOls fell to Oklahoma in the finals, ending their season 52-12. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

University of Tennessee Lady Vols softball player Anna Renfroe greet fans as the team returns from the Womens College World Series, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. The Lady VOls fell to Oklahoma in the finals, ending their season 52-12. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Oklahoma press conference after winning the 2013 WCWS

Tennessee press conference following losing the WCWS

One national championship opportunity often leaves fans thinking about the next one.

Tennessee came close to a national championship this week, playing its way into the finals of the Women’s College World Series before losing back-to-back games to Oklahoma.

Despite the loss, the softball program is the place to start if you’re wondering about Tennessee’s next national championship. Co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly are succeeding where so many other UT coaches are failing. They’re consistently recruiting the best players in the country.

They have yet to win a national championship. But they’ve made the WCWS six times in the last nine years.

And no one should be surprised if the Lady Vols are playing for the national championship next year in Oklahoma City.

There’s nothing mysterious about the national titles UT has won in the last 15 years. They have won with great athletes.

UT’s 1998 national championship football team was chock-full of future NFL players.

When the Lady Vols won three consecutive national championships in women’s basketball from 1996 through 1998, they had Chamique Holdsclaw, a four-time All-American.

They won two more national championships in 2007 and 2008, thanks mainly to Candace Parker, a three-time All-American.

UT’s last national championship in outdoor track and field was in 2001 when it had sprinters Justin Gatlin and Leonard Scott, who both at some point in their career would run a sub-10-second 100 meters.

Something else about UT’s greatest sports teams of recent years: They weren’t built on in-state talent.

That’s not to minimize the importance of UT recruiting the best players from the state in any sport. But that alone isn’t nearly enough.

Tennessee native Al Wilson was the best player on the 1998 national championship football team. However, most of the best players on that team were from other states in the Southeast.

Holdsclaw is from New York. Parker grew up in Naperville, Ill.

Gatlin was born in Brooklyn and was recruited to UT from Pensacola, Fla. Scott is from Zachary, La.

First-year Lady Vols basketball coach Holly Warlick has been around UT long enough as a player and then an assistant coach to know the value of national recruiting. She watched former head coach Pat Summitt build and maintain a national championship program by recruiting the best players, regardless of their location.

Warlick’s first recruiting class exemplifies that. Her most celebrated signee was national player of the year Mercedes Russell from Springfield, Ore.

The Weeklys haven’t been deterred by distance, either. The best high school players are in California, so they recruit California.

The Lady Vols will lose a handful of outstanding players from this team, including All-Americans Raven Chavanne and Lauren Gibson. They will also lose pitcher Ivy Renfroe.

But they return All-American shortstop Madison Shipman and pitcher Ellen Renfroe, who was outstanding in the WCWS. Moreover, Ralph Weekly calls his incoming freshman group his best recruiting class that doesn’t include a pitcher.

That’s more reason to believe the softball program still is better equipped than any other to give UT its next national title.

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.

© 2013 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 23

VolunteerLifer writes:

Adams, you write this column as if people disagree with you about recruiting both Tennessee and elsewhere nationally. We don't.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say what you want, Witch Doctor really starting to believe Adams likes hurting us! Witch Doctor say thanks John!
Bones never lie.

volman2008 writes:

in response to vts1965:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

We need a hitting coach,and someone to learn to get the bunt down.We could do it in(2007)and we could do it this year.

tovolny writes:

COME ON JOHN...what an awkward way to rub it in UT's face. Why could you not find a few lines that would express some gratitude to the Lady Soft-ballers. I am extremely proud of the girls and I think they handled the whole situation with class and dignity. (You might want to look that word up John). Our husband/wife coaching duo was at the top mark of class and dignity. I am extremely proud of them also. You know you can retire at 62. Anyway, most likely the people in Tennessee and Oklahoma will remember the Ladies came in second, but by Christmas, the rest of the world will remember how well both teams played and will probably forget who actually won. KNS does have a retirement plan, right?

iowavol writes:

Don't need to read a word this AH writes to understand his only purpose is to degrade the volunteers and their fans. Adams is the original POS.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to vts1965:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Agreed. The moving in opposite directions would appear to make it doubly hard, as hard as it already is. My guess as to why they do it is few women have the true power to hit a fat ball hard enough. But if you're going to do that why not just go ahead and square up to bunt? Then again, I hate baseball so what do I know.

bunker_hill#300251 writes:

in response to vts1965:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

So how come slap hitting is so bad, yet all the top batting averages for a career at UT are slap hitters?? India Chiles had it and now Raven will have it by quite a bit and I bet Sarah Fekete is #3 or 4 all time.

The difficulties these last two nights were to two of the best "LEFT" handed pitchers in the country. Just like in baseball, it's tough for a lefty to hit a lefty.

I also guess lefty slapping didn't get Raven invited to USA Softball team tryouts or her gaudy batting average either....

tarter_sauce writes:

in response to vts1965:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

how many screen names do you have ? replying to yourself ? what a dope !

spacificislander writes:

in response to tovolny:

COME ON JOHN...what an awkward way to rub it in UT's face. Why could you not find a few lines that would express some gratitude to the Lady Soft-ballers. I am extremely proud of the girls and I think they handled the whole situation with class and dignity. (You might want to look that word up John). Our husband/wife coaching duo was at the top mark of class and dignity. I am extremely proud of them also. You know you can retire at 62. Anyway, most likely the people in Tennessee and Oklahoma will remember the Ladies came in second, but by Christmas, the rest of the world will remember how well both teams played and will probably forget who actually won. KNS does have a retirement plan, right?

As proud of the Lady Vols as I am, there is absolutely no way that anyone outside of Knoxville will remember we were even there by Xmas. You remember the winner, not the runner-up.

NowHearThis writes:

in response to spacificislander:

As proud of the Lady Vols as I am, there is absolutely no way that anyone outside of Knoxville will remember we were even there by Xmas. You remember the winner, not the runner-up.

Outside of a core contingent of fans and a goodly portion of the LGBT community, very few people even know women play softball in college.

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to NowHearThis:

Outside of a core contingent of fans and a goodly portion of the LGBT community, very few people even know women play softball in college.

Yeah, that's why every game was sold out and espn put it on their networks... you know, because no one knew about it.

Take your sexist and sad attitude elsewhere.

SummittsCourt writes:

KNS! It took you long enough to finally start covering the Lady Vols softball team the way it should be. Maybe next season you want wait until they make the finals to start giving the only team (except maybe next season the Lady Vols basketball team) that can play for a national title some coverage.

ARANGEVOL writes:

TKS Ladies! For giving us somthing to look forward to. Something very very rare in sports at the University of Tennessee today.

GO VOLS

johnlg00 writes:

No doubt the Weeklys have a great program going. I'm sure the Lady Vols will be in the championship mix for years to come. However, I'm not sure they are a real good bet to get back there next year. Now, let me say right here that I am not the most knowledgeable fan out there, but when I see that Ivy Renfroe won't be back and there are no pitchers in the incoming class, I'm wondering if they have enough pitching to contend again. Ellen was great in the WCWS but I wonder if she is strong enough to carry the bulk of the load or if there is ample, if as-yet unknown, support and relief for her. Love to hear the thoughts of those who know more about the sport and this team than I do.

blaz2102 writes:

in response to NowHearThis:

Outside of a core contingent of fans and a goodly portion of the LGBT community, very few people even know women play softball in college.

Dude thats just a weird comment. I went to nearly all the games home and away and my observation is that the audience represented America. JMO

blaz2102 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

No doubt the Weeklys have a great program going. I'm sure the Lady Vols will be in the championship mix for years to come. However, I'm not sure they are a real good bet to get back there next year. Now, let me say right here that I am not the most knowledgeable fan out there, but when I see that Ivy Renfroe won't be back and there are no pitchers in the incoming class, I'm wondering if they have enough pitching to contend again. Ellen was great in the WCWS but I wonder if she is strong enough to carry the bulk of the load or if there is ample, if as-yet unknown, support and relief for her. Love to hear the thoughts of those who know more about the sport and this team than I do.

John, Yes Ellen is more than capable of carrying the year. There are some unknowns out there as you stated. However with Tarrango (USA Pitcher), Gabriel (USA Pitcher), Gaffin (who was a highly recruited pitcher), That makes a possible of 4 pitchers. Losing Ivy to me will not only a hurt at pitcher. But as a model for the players themselves.

bunker_hill#300251 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

No doubt the Weeklys have a great program going. I'm sure the Lady Vols will be in the championship mix for years to come. However, I'm not sure they are a real good bet to get back there next year. Now, let me say right here that I am not the most knowledgeable fan out there, but when I see that Ivy Renfroe won't be back and there are no pitchers in the incoming class, I'm wondering if they have enough pitching to contend again. Ellen was great in the WCWS but I wonder if she is strong enough to carry the bulk of the load or if there is ample, if as-yet unknown, support and relief for her. Love to hear the thoughts of those who know more about the sport and this team than I do.

Tarango can pitch and she showed that in her brief stint in the Super Regionals vs. Alabama. That was a very tough spot to come into and she passed with flying colors. Also Erin Gabriel showed flashes before she got hurt, so assuming she recovers fully, I think we'll be fine in the circle. But you are right, Ellen will be carring the load and I'm sure starting today that's what she will be preparing herself to do this offseason.

volman444 writes:

we recruit very very well. the weakness i see is our game day coaching. pulling the outfield in with 3-1 lead and a meaningless runner at 3rd cost us game 1. you tell your outfield.."nothing get's behind you, keep the batter on 1st after a hit". we pulled centerfielder in and a ball gets over her head. that is taught in peewee ball.

govols1234567 writes:

I'm failing to see why a lot of you are considering that John Adams is Satan after writing a decent, factual and non-slandering article on Tennessee. He seems like most any other average columnist to me.

blackandblue writes:

Agreed it takes great talent, but it also takes coaches who at least know basic rec league softball strategy. In 11 th inning of first game, score 3-1 in favor of UT, OK had a runner on third with one out. The batter was the tying run, yet the outfield was playing so shallow that you would have thought they needed to throw the runner on third out at home to save the game. Obviously they needed to be deep enough to keep the ball in front of them to keep the batter from achieving scoring position. So of course the batter hits a triple over the outfield's head, ultimately scoring the tying run. Pretty much game, set, match. The coaches lost this game and most likely the championship series.

volfaninutah writes:

despite coming to the KNS paper, everyday, my best shot at reading a good article is the Maryville Times or the Chattanooga paper.

PHAT_VOL writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say what you want, Witch Doctor really starting to believe Adams likes hurting us! Witch Doctor say thanks John!
Bones never lie.

First off I cant belive you of all people read something from Johnny Boy. I think people want John to be a fan. The only thing John is a fan of is John. Dooley, you could tell by just the look on his face when John was around, detested him. It was like OH NO its John again. So what do we have in John and Climer of the Tennessean? Shock reporting to sell adds. Kinda like Limbaugh and other shock radio jocks. Something to provoke a response mostly negative and rarely postive. Who remembers F.M. Williams? Who wrote for The Tennesean. He was a VOL fan and a very good objective reporter/writer. Where have people like him gone? So, we get what people want to read? Something that irritates or prodes. Or you can soft soak the reader or listener by telling them what he or she wants to hear. There are good writers around. Its just that they are hard to find these days.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to PHAT_VOL:

First off I cant belive you of all people read something from Johnny Boy. I think people want John to be a fan. The only thing John is a fan of is John. Dooley, you could tell by just the look on his face when John was around, detested him. It was like OH NO its John again. So what do we have in John and Climer of the Tennessean? Shock reporting to sell adds. Kinda like Limbaugh and other shock radio jocks. Something to provoke a response mostly negative and rarely postive. Who remembers F.M. Williams? Who wrote for The Tennesean. He was a VOL fan and a very good objective reporter/writer. Where have people like him gone? So, we get what people want to read? Something that irritates or prodes. Or you can soft soak the reader or listener by telling them what he or she wants to hear. There are good writers around. Its just that they are hard to find these days.

Witch Doctor hear on a dark stormy night you can hear Adams chackling ringing up and down the halls at KNS as he types these...Witch Doctor say lets not forget the key point...hes a Bammer and they got no sense. Witch Doctor say Jesus loves them cause no one else does. Jesus tell Witch Doctor only a little bit...lol
Bones never lie.

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