Lady Vols to take on Alabama Friday in NCAA Super Regionals
Tennessee softball players repeatedly have referred to “doing the little things” in their quest for the Women’s College World Series.
But their fans probably are thinking bigger before Friday’s Super Regional at Lee Stadium. For them, this weekend won’t be just about softball.
It will be about Tennessee vs. Alabama. It will be about their school advancing to a national stage.
And the fan base is growing accordingly. Tennessee fans who have never seen a softball game will have a rooting interest now that their school is only a Super Regional away from the WCWS.
Co-head coach Karen Weekly has noticed the increased interest in her emails and texts.
“I get them from all the people who can’t get tickets,” she said. “They’re trying to figure out how to get tickets.”
Big rivals and high stakes have that effect.
Beating ’Bama in anything matters to UT. Playing for a national championship in anything matters, too.
Final Four appearances were once almost routine for the women’s basketball program. But the Lady Vols haven’t made the Final Four since 2008. In each of the past three seasons, they have come up one game short, losing in the Elite Eight.
Tennessee senior third baseman Raven Chavanne’s strongest memory from UT’s last NCAA tournament exit was of senior forward Taber Spani, who broke down at the end of the loss to Louisville two months ago in Oklahoma City.
“Just seeing her on the court,” said Chavanne, putting one hand to her heart.
UT senior second baseman Lauren Gibson had a heartfelt reaction as well.
“We all know each other,” she said of the two teams. “The Tennessee athletes are like a little family. When they go down, it’s kind of like we go down.”
What distinguishes Tennessee softball from the rest of the family is how far it keeps going before going down.
While the program hasn’t won a national championship, it has consistently put itself in position to win one. Five times in the past eight years, the Lady Vols have made it to the WCWS. That makes them 5-0 in Super Regionals under co-coaches Karen and Ralph Weekly.
The Super Regional success isn’t by happenstance.
“The years we (made it to the WCWS), that’s when we had really strong teams,” Karen Weekly said. “The years we faltered in the regionals, we probably really didn’t have all the pieces.”
No shortcomings were evident last weekend. Pitchers Ivy and Ellen Renfroe combined for three shutouts and Tennessee scored 17 runs in rolling through the Knoxville Regional last weekend.
Afterward, Karen reminded the players “to leave no stone unturned” in their preparation for defending national champion Alabama.
“Whether that means a few extra minutes in the batting cage or a few extra minutes reaching out to a teammate that’s struggling,” she told her team. “Anything you think can help the team, don’t hesitate.”
She also encouraged the fans’ support — the louder the better.
Arch-rival Alabama is in their sights. A national championship opportunity is two victories away.
Volume shouldn’t be a problem.