The No. 3 Tennessee Lady Vols softball team came into the 2014 season with lofty expectations, and two weeks into conference play it has lived up to the hype.
After series against Arkansas and South Carolina, the Lady Vols have posted a 5-1 record including a sweep last weekend over the Gamecocks. While the Tennessee pitching staff has struggled at times, the offense has exploded, outscoring its opponents 43-18 in conference play.
"We have just been doing all the small things right," senior shortstop Madison Shipman said at Wednesday's media availability. "We're trying not to do too much and just execute the little things."
While senior pitcher Ellen Renfroe has not been her usual self over the past few games, she has been more than qualified to get the job done. She picked up win No. 18 over the weekend, putting her in a tie for first in the nation in wins.
Sophomore Rainey Gaffin also had a huge week at the plate, batting .800, including a walk-off single last Tuesday in a 9-8 win over MTSU in the inaugural Mid-State Classic played in Columbia, Tenn.
The level of competition is rising, though, as the Vols will host the No. 4 Florida Gators at Sherri Lee Parker Stadium for a three-game series this weekend.
Shipman named SEC POTW
Shipman has been Tennessee's best hitter all season, and she seems to be getting better at the plate every week.
This week, the senior earned SEC player of the week honors after batting .429 with a grand slam and seven RBI. This raised her season average to .433 and gives her 26 total RBI.
"Madison is playing the best softball she's played since she's been at Tennessee," co-head coach Karen Weekly said. "I think that is a real credit to her as senior because every once in a while you will see seniors slump a little bit."
On top of her performance at the plate, Shipman has also excelled in the field. In Sunday's win over South Carolina, she recorded a school record nine assists from her shortstop position.
Defense is something Shipman has always prided herself on, Weekly said, as well as something she is always looking to improve upon.
"A lot of the people who win big awards are purely offensive players," Weekly said. "Maddie takes great pride in her defense, and it's actually something we worked on even more yesterday, just making sure she was doing everything right defensively."
Lady Vols embrace 'One Tennessee'
While the softball team has focused on winning games, they have also been keeping a close eye on the success that both the men's and women's basketball teams have had this postseason.
The men's team and the softball team play at about the same time Friday night, and while they acknowledge it might cut into their home crowd this weekend, Weekly said the softball program couldn't be happier for the basketball teams.
"I'm excited for our men's basketball team," Weekly said. "I'm certainly happy for Cuonzo and what they've been able to do. It's unfortunate timing, some of our crowd might be up there supporting them, which is fantastic, and maybe some other folks will stay at home and watch that game."
Senior basketball player Meighan Simmons regularly attends softball games, and Shipman decided to return the favor this weekend.
"I was actually at the women's game (Monday)," Shipman said. "It was kind of sad watching Meighan play her last game in Thompson-Boling, but they have been doing awesome and I'm totally supportive of both of (the programs)."
The phrase "One Tennessee" has become popular between all UT coaches and is a philosophy Weekly has consistently emphasized.
"The better all our sports do, the better it is for everybody here at Tennessee," Weekly said. "We couldn't be more excited for them."