KNOXVILLE- The Tennessee softball program released its 2014 schedule on Tuesday. UT opens the season on Feb.7 and the challenging schedule features 30 games against teams who played in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
The 2014 schedule features strong tests for Tennessee from start to finish. For the first 12 weeks of the 13-week regular season, UT will have at least one game against a team that played in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
"This schedule will be a challenge for our young squad, but we've always played a tough schedule and will continue to do so," Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "Great early season competition prepares us for the demanding SEC schedule and the postseason. We look forward to the challenge."
The Lady Vols enjoyed one of the finest seasons in program history in 2013, finishing as the national runner-up, making their sixth Women's College World Series appearance in nine years and posting their eighth 50-win season with a final record of 52-12. The 2013 season featured several historic feats for UT as co-head coach Karen Weekly recorded her 800th career win, co-head coach Ralph Weekly recorded his 1,100th career win, Raven Chavanne earned Capital One Academic All-American of the Year honors and Lauren Gibson was named the SEC Player of the Year. The team featured three NFCA Division I first team All-Americans in Chavanne, Gibson and Madison Shipman and three Capital One Academic All-Americans in Chavanne, Shipman and Ellen Renfroe.
UT returns several key players from its 2013 WCWS Championship Series run, including All-American seniors Renfroe (2011, 2012) and Shipman (2012, 2013). With 11 returning veterans and seven exciting newcomers, Tennessee is primed for another big season and has goals that culminate in Oklahoma City.
The 2014 season opens in Statesboro, Ga., when UT plays in Georgia Southern's tournament from Feb. 7-9. Tennessee's season opener is against Northern Colorado (16-30-1 in 2013) on Feb. 7 and the two teams square off once again on Feb. 8. The Lady Vols take on host Georgia Southern (33-30) on Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. The Eagles are back-to-back Southern Conference champions and played in the NCAA Tournament last year in Florida's regional, winning one game in the losers bracket. On Feb. 9, Tennessee concludes its stay in Statesboro with an 11:30 a.m. game against Oakland (7-23-1).
For the second year in a row, the Lady Vols will head south to Tampa, Fla., to play in one of USF's tournaments from Feb. 14-16. Last season, UT thrived on the Bulls' home field, going 5-0 with an 11-0 victory over then-No. 12/12 USF. Tennessee will play five games in Tampa again in 2014, starting with games against Pittsburgh (19-29) and Binghamton (30-17) on Feb. 14. The Lady Vols play host USF (45-16) on Feb. 15 at 1:45 p.m. followed by an 8:30 p.m. game against Illinois (22-27). The Bulls were 2013 Big East champions and fell to Florida in the Gainesville Regional. UT will wrap play in the Sunshine State against Wright State (19-37) on Feb. 16.
Tennessee next plays in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., for the seventh consecutive year. From Feb. 22-23, UT will play its toughest four-game non-conference stretch of the regular season. On Feb. 22, Tennessee takes on 2013 WCWS team Nebraska (45-16) at 5 p.m. PT followed by a 7:30 p.m PT game against 2013 NCAA Tournament team Oregon State (34-24). On Feb. 23, UT plays another NCAA team in Stanford (39-21) at 2 p.m. PT, followed by a game against a tough Fresno State (30-24) team at 4:30 p.m. PT.
On Feb. 25, Tennessee heads 100 miles west to play a single game against Cal State Fullerton (28-28).
The Lady Vols continue their West Coast swing the following week in the San Diego Classic from Feb. 27 to March 1. On Feb. 27, UT plays a pair of games against 2013 NCAA Tournament teams in Pacific Coast champion BYU (33-25) and Mountain West champ San Diego State (36-20). Tennessee plays Colorado State (25-24) on Feb. 28 before facing Fresno State for a second time on March 1. UT also faces Utah (24-30-1) on March 1 at 2 p.m. PT before heading back east.
Tennessee's 2014 home opener is against Wright State on March 5. That game starts a seven-game stretch of non-conference games at home before the start of SEC play. From March 7-9, Tennessee will host a home tournament at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. UT will play a doubleheader on March 7 against Holy Cross (13-31) and Campbell (39-21), starting at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Lady Vols face 2013 NCAA Tournament team Western Kentucky (43-18) on March 8 at 2 p.m. ET. The Lady Toppers were Sun Belt regular-season champs in 2013. UT squares off against Georgia Southern for a second time on March 9 in the front half of doubleheader. Tennessee plays Charleston (37-20), a team that tripped up the Lady Vols on the road in 2013, in the second game of the twin bill.
After a midweek non-conference home game against Western Carolina (20-36) on March 11, Tennessee opens Southeastern Conference play with a three-game road series at Arkansas (36-20). Arkansas played in the 2013 Norman Regional, before eventual national champ Oklahoma eliminated the Razorbacks in sixth game. Last year, Arkansas defeated UT, 2-1, in Knoxville before inclement weather canceled the final two games of the series.
Tennessee is home for the next two SEC weekends, hosting South Carolina (34-25) from March 21-23 and fellow WCWS team Florida (58-9) from March 28-30. The Gamecocks played in last year's Austin Regional and were eliminated by eventual WCWS team Texas in the sixth game. Tennessee defeated South Carolina, 5-0, in the 2013 SEC Tournament. The 2013 Tennessee-Florida regular season series was a thriller with late hits deciding all three games. The Gators had a 2-1 edge on UT in the regular season, but the Lady Vols bounced UF from Oklahoma City with a resounding 9-2 win.
The Lady Vols next head to Baton Rouge, La., for a three-game series against LSU (42-16) from April 4-6. The Tigers hosted the 2013 Baton Rouge Regional, but were ultimately upset by in-state foe Louisiana-Lafayette in the sixth game. UT has not faced LSU since the 2012 season when the Lady Vols swept the Tigers in Knoxville.
Following a midweek contest against Tennessee Tech (22-28) on April 8, Tennessee travels to College Station, Texas, to play Texas A&M from April 11-13. Texas A&M won its College Station Regional last season, but fell in two games to Oklahoma in the Super Regionals. UT is 5-0 all-time against the Aggies, including a three-game sweep against then-No. 5/4 Texas A&M in 2013.
After a midweek game against a tough Eastern Kentucky squad (36-20) on April 15, Tennessee hosts Mississippi State (33-23) from April 18-20. The Bulldogs played in the Mobile Regional and were eliminated by host South Alabama. Tennessee did not play MSU in 2013. The last time the teams played, UT took a three-game sweep in Starkville, Miss., in 2012.
Tennessee plays a midweek game against Furman on April 22 to conclude its regular-season, non-conference slate. The Lady Vols wrap up their SEC road schedule with a three-game series at Kentucky (41-21) from April 25-27. The Wildcats won the Lexington Regional but fell to Arizona State in the Tempe Super Regional. UT and UK played a single, non-conference game in 2013 in Lexington with Tennessee taking a 6-0 win.
The Lady Vols conclude their 2014 regular-season schedule at home with three games against Ole Miss (25-31). Tennessee took three run-rule victories over Ole Miss in 2013 in Oxford, Miss.
The 2014 SEC Tournament is May 7-10 in Columbia, S.C., Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field. NCAA Regionals run from May 15-18 with Super Regionals following from May 22-25. The 2014 Women's College World Series will be held from May 29 to June 4 at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.