Before her senior season, Madison Shipman was named to both the pre-season All-SEC and All-American teams, and two months into the season she has left no doubt that is exactly where she belongs.
The shortstop from Valencia, Calif., has been one of the hottest hitters in the country so far this year. She leads the team in batting average, hitting .413, along with 8 home runs and 26 RBI on the season.
"Madison is playing the best softball she's played since she's been at Tennessee," co-head coach Karen Weekly said. "I think that's a real credit to her as a senior.
"Every once in a while you will see seniors slump a little bit, maybe put a little too much pressure on themselves."
Shipman has been a regular in the Lady Vols lineup since her freshman season and has continued to improve each year.
But what sets Shipman apart from the other elite players in the nation, Weekly says, is her dedication to defense. Earlier this season against South Carolina, she set a Tennessee record with nine defensive assists in a game.
"What really stands out to me is the pride that Maddie takes in her defensive play," Weekly said. "Sometimes those awards are based solely on offensive performance; their defense goes unnoticed. Maddie just takes great pride in her defense."
On a team with only three seniors, one of Shipman's most important roles doesn't show up in the stat book. Being a leader on such a young team, Weekly says, is crucial during the grueling SEC schedule.
Always keeping a calm demeanor is one of the most important things Shipman does for this team, as she knows the younger players will look to her during critical parts of the game.
"I just try to be somebody that's consistent, that they can look to," Shipman said. "Not too high and not too low in any game situation. Just somebody they can look to and say, 'Maddie is doing OK, we're still fine.'"
The Lady Vols' coaching staff uses Shipman as an example on how they want their younger players to behave and react throughout the year – a player who keeps her emotions in check throughout the test of a long season.
"I think our team, especially our young players can learn a lot from her," Weekly said. "(They can) learn how to manage the emotions of the game and the ups and downs of a season and a career."
After playing nearly full four years of softball at Tennessee, Shipman has become a fan favorite, drawing a loud reaction from the crowd every time she steps to the plate or makes a play in the field.
People in the crowd can be seen holding up her picture, and there are countless children – and some adults – trying to get an autograph after every game.
"She is very popular with the fans," Weekly said. "Part of that comes from being on the field pretty much every game since her freshman year and doing great things in a Lady Vols uniform."
Shipman says she couldn't have wished for a better start to her senior season, but with still half the season left, she is not planning on slowing down anytime soon.
"Yes (I'm thrilled)," Shipman said. "Now I'm just going to try to keep this going, that's for sure."