Lady Vols No. 1 in preseason softball poll; Tory Lewis won't play senior season

Tory Lewis, left, and Rainey Gaffin greet fans as the softball team returned from the Women's College World Series on June 5, 2013. Lewis will not play her senior season because of 'medical issues,' according to co-head coach Ralph Weekly. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tory Lewis, left, and Rainey Gaffin greet fans as the softball team returned from the Women's College World Series on June 5, 2013. Lewis will not play her senior season because of "medical issues," according to co-head coach Ralph Weekly. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Tennessee will begin the 2014 softball season where it would like to finish. It’s No. 1.

After an NCAA runner-up finish in 2013, the Lady Vols were ranked No. 1 in the USA Today/NFCA Division I preseason Top 25 poll.

The program’s first preseason No. 1 ranking caught co-head coach Ralph Weekly off guard.

“To be honest, it kind of surprised me,” Weekly said Tuesday. “We lost six seniors. We also lost Tory Lewis.”

The loss of Lewis is a more recent development. Weekly said the center fielder will miss her senior season because of “medical issues.”

He did not elaborate.

Lewis missed the start of last season with a concussion.

Lewis referred to herself as a “former student-athlete at the University of Tennessee” on her LinkedIn page. Lewis wrote that she’s completing a practicum in the sports medicine department with the men’s and women’s basketball teams under UT athletic trainer Chad Newman.

Defending national champion Oklahoma had 17 first-place votes to seven for Tennessee in the preseason coaches poll, but finished second in points. Oklahoma returns seven of nine starters but lost its three pitchers, Weekly said.

Washington is third, followed by Florida, Michigan and Alabama, to give the SEC three teams in the top six.

“Our conference has gotten a lot tougher,” Weekly said. “Eleven teams went to the NCAA tournament last season.”

The Lady Vols, who will open their season Feb. 7, went 52-12 last year and made the Women’s College World Series for the sixth time in nine years under co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly.

Despite all that success, this is their first No. 1 preseason ranking.

UT will return two All-Americans, pitcher Ellen Renfroe and shortstop Madison Shipman.

“We have the No. 1 pitching recruit (Erin Gabriel) from last year,” Ralph Weekly said. “That’s another thing that might have helped us get some votes (in the poll).”

Gabriel underwent hip surgery last year to repair a torn labrum suffered in April. She was cleared to play three weeks ago, Weekly said.

Freshmen also might have had an impact on the No. 1 ranking. Freshman second baseman Meghan Geer led the Lady Vols in hitting during the fall exhibition season.

“She hit five home runs in eight fall games,” Weekly said. “If not the best, she’s one of the three top freshmen we’ve had in the 12 years Karen and I have been here.”

John Adams is a senior columnist. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 3

snowpeapod#263184 writes:

John, let me be the first to congratulate you. I quit reading your columns months ago and read this one without looking at it's writer. When I got to the bottom and saw your name, I read it again and was pleasantly surprised to not find one word of negativity or sarcasm.

TNlogfire writes:

adams...put down the zanax and get back to ripping everybody so we'll know for SURE we don't have to read you...

Volswin1 writes:

in response to snowpeapod#263184:

John, let me be the first to congratulate you. I quit reading your columns months ago and read this one without looking at it's writer. When I got to the bottom and saw your name, I read it again and was pleasantly surprised to not find one word of negativity or sarcasm.

My same sentiments. Is that really adams writing this ?

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