Lee Stadium's clubhouse was packed Saturday as fans of all ages came to meet their favorite players and coaches of the Lady Vols softball team.
The fourth annual "Meet and Greet" saw the largest attendance in the event's history as fans lined out the door to get autographs from the team. Players happily stayed 30 minutes after the scheduled hour in order to accommodate all the fans, many of whom had waited in line for more than half an hour.
Senior pitcher Ellen Renfroe was especially impressed by the large crowd and appreciated all the support.
"I remember driving in 15 minutes early from when it was supposed to start, and there was already a long line of people out there," Renfroe said. "So it was just really exciting and inspiring for the whole team to know that we've got so much support."
In addition to meeting all the players, fans were able to tour the Lady Vols' clubhouse and stadium and take batting practice in the cages.
Co-head coach Ralph Weekly said it "means the world to us" to see the amount of support his team has received.
Weekly credits the sizable crowd to his players' actions on and off the field.
"We want them to be the kind of girls that other girls want to be like when they grow up and go to college," Weekly said. "We want to represent Tennessee in the right way."
The increase in support can also be attributed to the recent success on the field. The Lady Vols finished a program-best second in the Women's College World Series in 2013 and are ranked No. 1 entering this season.
Taking the diamond
Fans and players both took to the stadium after everyone had an autograph from each of the players for an open scrimmage.
The current team was joined by former Lady Vols Lauren Gibson, Raven Chavanne, Ashley Andrews and Melissa Brown while Kat Dotson was also in attendance.
Players and coaches alike were more than happy to welcome back their former teammates.
"It just ups the quality of the scrimmage," Weekly said. "You are able to put three All-Americans in the infield versus backups that you have. It just makes it a better game for the starters."
The scrimmage pitted the two starting pitchers against each other, Renfroe and sophomore Erin Gabriel.
It only took one inning for the team to showcase their new reputation as a power hitting team.
Cheyanne Tarango took a pitch from Renfroe over the fence in left center field for a three-run home run.
Tarango would surrender a home run herself after coming on to replace Renfroe late in the scrimmage.
However, Weekly was not satisfied with only two home runs.
"I would have like to have seen a couple more," he said.
For the other team, facing former All-Americans Chavanne and Gibson, Gabriel shined in her five innings of work allowing only one run.
Sophomore Rainey Gaffin, who played exclusively in the outfield last season, came on to replace Gabriel with two innings remaining.
Weekly described her performance as, "excellent," adding, "In fact, the umpire behind the plate, who is an SEC umpire, said he was tremendously impressed with the way she pitched."
The Lady Vols begin their season Feb. 7 against Northern Colorado in the Georgia Southern Tournament.