Tennessee’s seniors have plenty of NCAA softball tournament experience. But even when they didn’t, they thrived.
Seniors Kat Dotson, Raven Chavanne and Lauren Gibson all started as freshmen when the Lady Vols (47-10) advanced to the Women’s College World Series in 2010. So did star pitcher Ivy Renfroe.
Now, they’re shooting for their third WCWS in four seasons. They will open their Super Regional against Alabama (45-13) on Friday (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.) at Lee Stadium.
“We went to Michigan (in the 2010 Super Regional) as a 15 seed,” Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “Michigan was a No. 2 seed, one of the favorites to win the national championship.
“We just took all those young kids up there, and they played loose and had fun. That was a really special year.”
Three years later, the challenge is different for a team loaded with talent and experience.
“It was easy when they were freshmen to play loose, because nothing really was expected of them,” Weekly said.
While the expectations are higher now, the players don’t appear to be burdened by them.
“I was really pleased with the way they played (in last weekend’s Knoxville Regional),” Weekly said. “I think they went out there and played hard.
Pitching Diversity: Alabama is gearing up for the challenge of facing two different Tennessee pitchers with two different styles. Ivy Renfroe is a power pitcher while her sister, Ellen, relies more on finesse.
“We have to recognize they’re different and make adjustments as fast as we can.” said Kayla Braud, Alabama’s leading hitter.
Chavanne can appreciate Alabama’s challenge since she has to bat against both pitchers in practice.
“It’s definitely going to work in our favor, having two pitchers of that caliber, yet are so different,” Chavanne said.
Friendly Rivalry: Alabama coach Patrick Murphy praised UT coaches and players after his team’s practice at Lee Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s a good rivalry,” he said. “It’s not a nasty rivalry.”
Top Three: Chavanne and two Oklahoma players are the three finalists for the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award. Oklahoma’s Lauren Chamberlain and Keilani Ricketts, who won the award last season, are the other two finalists.
Chavanne ranks second in the SEC with a .470 batting average, leads the league with 39 stolen bases and has been outstanding defensively at third base.
Academic Star, Too: Chavanne was named the Capital One Academic All-American of the Year in Division I.
Chavanne is a three-time first-team Academic All-American and the political science major had a 3.84 GPA entering the spring.
Ellen Renfroe and Madison Shipman also were named to the All-American academic team.