The Tennessee softball team’s rise to prominence continued Tuesday as the Lady Vols were ranked 13th in the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 Collegiate Poll.
The Lady Vols’ ranking set a Tennessee record for highest preseason position. The Lady Vols climbed as high as 10th in last year’s national rankings and advanced to NCAA regional play.
UT is the SEC’s third-highest team in the poll, with LSU coming in at No. 8 and Georgia at No. 10. Alabama is ranked 15th.
Pac-10 powers California, Arizona and UCLA controlled the top three spots in the initial poll. The Golden Bears picked up 10 of 20 first-place votes after losing 3-1 in last year’s national championship to cross-state rival UCLA.
Tennessee currently is scheduled to play top-ranked California and nine other teams in the top 25. Other non-conference teams on UT’s schedule include No. 9 Washington, No. 12 Michigan, No. 16 Oregon State, No. 18 Baylor, No. 19 Long Beach State and No. 20 Nebraska.
Coming off a school-record 55 wins last year, UT will return most of the key players from last year’s Southeastern Conference Eastern Division champions, including left-handed pitcher Monica Abbott.
Now a sophomore, Abbott posted one of the most dominating debut seasons in NCAA history with 45 wins, 582 strikeouts and a 1.03 earned-run average. Her strikeout total surpassed the national freshman strikeout record formerly held by Texas junior and U.S. Olympian Cat Osterman.