As the old saying goes, "In order to be the best, you have to beat the best." Or at least play the best.
After directing the University of Tennessee softball team to its first winning season since 1999, co-head coaches Karen and Ralph Weekly have compiled a tough 2003 slate for a squad that will be welcoming 12 new players to its roster.
Once again, the Lady Volunteers will travel throughout the country to face top-notch competition to prepare for the rugged 30-game slate that the Southeastern Conference offers.
Over the first five weekends of its eighth campaign, UT will participate in tournaments hosted by the University of California (Berkeley, Calif.); the University of Central Florida (St. Augustine, Fla.); Belmont University (Nashville); the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Florida International University (Miami, Fla.).
"We are excited about our 2003 schedule," Ralph Weekly said. "Opening in Berkeley against defending national champion California will be a super challenge for all of our freshmen. Karen and I think that we have a nice blend of non-conference opponents who will test a talented young team.
"It is interesting to note that at least 25 of our 56 contests will be against teams that advanced to NCAA Regionals in May, including seven from the SEC."
Unlike last season, the Weeklys' team should be able to enjoy more of a home-field advantage within the friendly confines of Tyson Park. UT will host the First Tennessee Bank Classic at the end of March and is scheduled to have 33 home games, compared to just 18 in 2001.
The club will also be aiming to reach the SEC Tournament for the first time in four seasons. The conference event will be contested May 8-11 in Plant City, Fla. after two years at Jim Frost Stadium in Chattanooga.