The Tennessee softball team, fresh off an appearance in last season’s World Series, opens up the 2007 campaign with their highest pre-season ranking ever.
The No. 2 Lady Vols have finished third the last two seasons, but return much of the same team from last season. At the end of the semi-final loss to Arizona last year, co-head coach Ralph Weekly said, “I did not want them (the team) to get their head down.”
The season will pose quite a challenge for the team despite the high accolades they’re starting the year with. Even though Tennessee is a favorite to win the SEC, they will have tough conference competition in Alabama, LSU and Georgia. Outside of conference play, they will also face off against preseason-No. 3 UCLA, a winner of 10 national championships.
The past success for the Lady Vols is largely due to the play of pitcher Monica Abbott, a senior southpaw who stands tall at 6-3 and is looking to set a number of NCAA records. Abbott has already set the SEC records in both categories and is inching closer to two of the game’s most prestigious records.
Abbott needs only 13 more wins to claim the top spot for overall victories, and she could break the strikeout record by fanning 550 more batters. She has surpassed 550 strikeouts twice in her three years at Tennessee. Her earned run average is under one run a game, and the senior often seems unhittable.
Conditioning will be very important, and co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly have to be careful not to tire Abbott out with her starts in the regular season.
“She is an outstanding pitcher who is also an exceptional person,” Weekly said. “She is a pitcher any coach would love to pencil into the lineup in a championship game.”
The entire pitching staff will be returning from last year along with seven offensive starters.
Tennessee also features some high caliber hitters on this year’s roster. Senior outfielder Lindsay Schutzler and infielder Tanya Callahan were voted to the preseason All-American watch list. Callahan is a power hitter in a game that often features more technique players. The Lady Vols often rely on Callahan’s big bat to drive in runs. She had 11 home runs her freshman year and 13 more during her second season for the Lady Vols. Schutzler is more of a contact hitter and gets on base consistently for the Volunteers.
India Chiles often provides Tennessee with speed in both the batter’s box and on the bases. Last year, she had 19 stolen bases and is currently the SEC’s leading returning hitter.
The Lady Vols open up their 2007 season in Chapel Hill Feb. 9, in a double header against East Carolina and Coastal Carolina.