For many members of the undefeated No. 3 Lady Vols softball team, their upcoming trip to California will be somewhat of a homecoming.
Nine current Lady Vols will be returning to their home state for the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., and the San Diego Classic with a game at Cal State Fullerton in between.
Even those not from California will be in familiar territory.
"I know so many girls out in Cali from being out there," sophomore Rainey Gaffin, a Thornton, Colo., native, said at Wednesday's media availability. "I'm just kind of excited to go against them. Kind of almost back like in summer ball. I just think we are ready and definitely we're just ready for this competition and to prove that we are still Tennessee."
Tennessee will face its toughest competition so far this season in the team's opening game of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic when it faces No. 12 Nebraska on Feb. 22. The Lady Vols will also face Oregon State in the nightcap of a doubleheader on Saturday.
The following day, the Lady Vols will face No. 11 Stanford and Fresno State in another doubleheader.
"Nebraska is a World Series team that returns their entire pitching staff," co-head coach Karen Weekly said. "Stanford, in my opinion, isn't ranked as highly as they should be. I think they're a top 10 team, maybe even a top five team."
Two members of the team will also reach career milestones against Nebraska.
Co-head coach Ralph Weekly will be taking part in his 1,500th game in his 28-year career as a coach. His stops during that time have included Pacific Lutheran, Chattanooga and Tennessee.
Senior pitcher Ellen Renfroe is sitting on 799 career strikeouts, which is second in Tennessee history, behind legendary pitcher Monica Abbott (2004-07) who holds the NCAA record with 2,440 strikeouts.
Tennessee will then take on Cal State Fullerton Feb. 25.
While UT's other opponents may not be as strong on paper, Weekly said Tennessee knows as well as anyone how talented West Coast teams are.
"They're loaded with West Coast kids," Karen Weekly said, "and those players out there are talented and they know how to play the game. And all of those schools can beat you if you don't bring your 'A' game."
Tennessee will wrap up its road trip in the San Diego Classic beginning Feb. 27.
"We're going to be tested every single game we play on this nine day swing out west," Karen Weekly continued. "It's going to be by far the toughest competition we face day in and day out."
For the coaches, this will not only be an opportunity to face difficult opponents, but also a chance to recruit.
"Well (the trip is) certainly important in recruiting," Karen Weekly said. "If we're going to continue to go out to California and bring talented players here to Tennessee, which we will, we need to go out there and play in front of their families, and that's important to our girls, and they're very excited about going out there.
"All that's important to me as a coach and to our players, is we get better every day and we go out and try to win every ball game."