The NCAA softball tournament bracket show had scarcely begun Sunday night when Tennessee popped up as the No. 7 overall seed.
The news was greeted with silence by the team assembled in the film room at Lee Stadium.
“Does that matter?” piped up a curious voice.
“Yes, that matters,’’ co-head coach Karen Weekly answered emphatically.
The Lady Vols already were assured of hosting a four-team regional this weekend, the ninth consecutive season they’ve done so.
But being among the top eight seeds was touch and go after UT stumbled in the final weeks of the season.
The top eight seeds — if they win their regionals — get to host a two-team Super Regional, which pares the field to eight for the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City May 30-June 5.
So, yes, being the No. 7 seed matters.
If form holds, Tennessee would host Alabama, the 10 seed and defending national champion, May 23-26.
“I’m really happy with that seed,’’ said co-head coach Ralph Weekly. “Getting the opportunity to host if we’re fortunate enough to win the regional, to host all the way through, is great.’’
First, there is work to be done this weekend.
The Lady Vols (44-10) face Big South Conference champion Longwood (41-18) at 6 p.m. Friday.
The 3:30 p.m. game pairs N.C. State (33-18-1), the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, and James Madison (41-15).
“It’s a tough regional,’’ Ralph Weekly said. “We watched Longwood today win the Big South. They’ve hit 85 home runs, which is about 20 more than us.
“We had two very close games with N.C. State and James Madison has a pitcher that’s on the U.S. national team.’’
Tennessee beat N.C. State twice this year during a tournament in Tampa, Fla.
The double-elimination regional continues Saturday and Sunday. If UT wins Friday, it plays at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. If the Lady Vols lose Friday, they play at 4 Saturday in an elimination game.
A 6:30 p.m. game Saturday eliminates a second team, leaving two teams to play for the championship Sunday at 1 p.m. A second game would be at 4:30, if necessary.
All-session and one-day tickets can be purchased online at UTTix.com, by phone at 865-656-1200, or during business hours at the Thompson-Boling Arena ticket office.
Missouri, which beat UT three times in the past nine days, is the No. 6 seed, one of 11 SEC teams in the field.
Oklahoma is the top seed. Florida got the No. 2 seed and could be waiting for the Tennessee-Alabama winner in Oklahoma City.
“It’s never easy to get to Oklahoma City,’’ Weekly said. “You’ve got to play the best to be the best so we look forward to the challenge.’’
The Lady Vols have begun the tournament at home every year beginning in 2005. They have advanced past five of the previous eight regionals.
Three times, Tennessee got to host a super regional: 2006, 2007 and 2012. The Lady Vols used all three as springboards to the WCWS.
They have also won Super Regionals at Michigan (2010) and Stanford (2005), going 5-for-5 on Super Regionals.
“I think we’ll be fine,’’ Ralph Weekly said.
Oklahoma is the No. 1 seed, followed by Florida at 2 and Oregon at 3.
LSU, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas A&M will also host regionals.
Knoxville Regional Schedule
Friday, May 17: James Madison vs. NC State, 3:30 p.m.
Friday, May 17: Tennessee vs. Longwood, 6 p.m.
Saturday, May 18: Winners from Friday's games, 1:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 18: Losers from Friday's games, 4 p.m.
Saturday, May 18: Loser of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4, 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 19: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 5, 1 p.m.
Sunday, May 19: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 5, If Necessary, 4:30 p.m.