While many students enjoyed a well-deserved rest from classes in early June, the Lady Vols softball team traveled to Oklahoma City for a run at the Women's World College Series. Starting the season, the Lady Vols had only one goal in mind.
"The goal is always the same, the national championship," said co-head Softball coach Karen Weekly.
Weekly, who has coached at UT for the last 12 years, brought her team to the championship series for the third time in four years.
They even had to endure a series of deadly tornadoes that stopped play for a whole day.
"I thought we did a good job of forgetting about it the next morning," senior shortstop Madison Shipman said. "We tried to not to let it affect our play."
With several players hailing from California, the tornado was a very new experience for the team, yet the coaching staff led the Vols through it all and provided constant reassurance to the team.
"We had a meeting after where the coaches asked us 'How do you feel' and we all just said that we still want to win, and that it is not going to shake us," junior infielder Hannah Akamine said.
Despite the bad weather, Weekly kept her cool and successfully kept her team focused on the games at hand.
"It was a nerve-wracking night to say the least, but I thought we rebounded very well the next day and got focused and got back to playing softball," Weekly said.
Shipman was also grateful for the effort shown by their coach.
"The coaches were really good, four hours before we had a meeting about the tornadoes, the plan for the night and what to bring to the parking garage," she said.
Despite the tornadoes, the team got back on its feet and competed against some of the top programs in the country.
"We knew we had a good team, a very talented team, and experienced team and that it was a matter of developing good team chemistry, leadership and toughness," Weekly said.
The Lady Vols dominated rival Florida 9-2 in the WCWS opener, while the second game against Washington was a much closer, 1-0 victory.
The team gutted out another 1-0 win over Texas to clinch a spot in a three game series against Oklahoma for the national title.
"Texas was a really hard game. The pitcher kept us on our toes, it was not a cakewalk," Akamine said.
A Game 1 defeat against Oklahoma was a crushing blow for the Lady Vols, who led in extra innings and came just one pitch away from clinching the opener before losing. They would go on to lose by four runs in Game 2, which clinched the title for the Sooners.
"We felt they left everything they had on the field and fought to the very end," Weekly said.
Through it all, the Lady Vols Softball team had plenty of support from back home, with\ constant backing from those unable to make it.
And when the team finally got back to Knoxville, they were greeted with nothing but love from the entire athletic department.
"Our fans are awesome, some of them traveled all the way to Oklahoma to see us," Shipman said.
Akamine had a similar assessment, as she became emotional at seeing the Vol Nation greet her and her teammates, even though the outcome was not what they expected.
"The football, basketball teams and all the coaches were all sitting there at the bus stop waiting for us," she said.
Weekly was similarly blown away by the support and positivity shown to the team at their return, and was overwhelmed by the love demonstrated by UT.
"We were getting emails and text messages and tweets, Facebook posts and all kinds of things, and you hear about it,"
Weekly said. "But I don't think we realized we had captivated the Knoxville community and the state of Tennessee until we came home and had a police escort from the airport to the softball stadium.
"There were 150 people, maybe more waiting to greet us and celebrate. Butch Jones, Cuonzo Martin, and Dave Hart, several other coaches. When our girls saw that it was very emotional, it made them realize how many people were living and dying the experience with them and so proud of them."
Even though the first game of 2013-14isn't for several months, the softball team is already looking forward to next year.
"Our goal at Tennessee is always the same. Every year we want to be in Oklahoma City competing for a national championship and that never changes," Weekly said.