KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – After registering 49 victories in 2010 and securing the program’s fourth top-three national finish at the Women’s College World Series over the last six seasons, the Tennessee Lady Vol softball squad will christen the 2011 campaign at No. 4 in the country according to Tuesday’s release of the 2011 preseason USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25 poll.
The preseason rating is the highest for the Big Orange since opening the 2007 slate at No. 2 in the NFCA rankings. UT was selected third in the initial 2006 USA Today/NFCA listing.
The Southeastern Conference is well represented as Tennessee is joined by fellow league schools Georgia, Florida and Alabama at Nos. 3, 5 and 6, respectively. LSU holds down the No. 19 position, while Kentucky and Auburn sit outside the poll in the “others receiving votes” category. Amazingly, the SEC Eastern Division boasts three of the nation’s top five squads in the initial ranking.
“It’s always nice when your team is recognized by your peers in coaching,” Lady Vol Co-Head Softball Coach Ralph Weekly said. “Every team listed in the Top 25, and many others that aren’t, are capable of advancing to postseason play. The most important poll is always the last one of the year. I believe today’s ranking definitely reflects the strength of the SEC this season.”
UT is slated to play seven members of the preseason top 19 and three teams that are currently rated in the top 10. Included in that total for the Lady Vols are match-ups against No. 20 Stanford on Feb. 20th at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Nev., contests versus No. 16 BYU and No. 1 and defending national champ UCLA at the prestigious Cathedral City Classic over Feb. 24-26 in Cathedral City, Calif., and regular-season SEC series’ against top-10 rated Georgia (April 6), Florida (May 6-8) and Alabama (March 22) as well as No. 19 LSU (April 15-17).
An impressive 13 letter-winners return from last season’s third-place Women’s College World Series squad, including Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-American sophomore outfielders Raven Chavanne (.455 avg., 64 runs, 37 steals) and Kat Dotson (.391 avg., 37 RBIs, 29 thefts), fellow NFCA All-Southeast Region selections junior Jessica Spigner (3B, .350 avg., 14 doubles, eight HR’s, 58 RBIs) and sophomore Ivy Renfroe (P, 31-6 record, 2.41 ERA, 235 K’s in 232.1 innings), 2010 Southeastern Conference All-Freshman selection Lauren Gibson (sophomore, 2B, .297 avg., eight doubles, six HR’s, 39 RBIs) and past all region selection senior Kelly Grieve (CF, .373 avg., 59 runs, 12 doubles, 26 steals).
The nation’s No. 1 rated recruiting class according to ESPN/RISE Magazine’s is also on campus and prepping for its first season clad in the Orange & White. The high-profile group consists of Madison Shipman, Ellen Renfroe, Tory Lewis, Ashley Holmes, Chelsea O’Connor, Melissa Davin and Kourtny Thomas.
In all Tennessee returns 75% of its run production, 77% of the hits, 71% of the doubles, 84% of the triples, 63% of the HR’s, 69% of the RBIs and 85% of the stolen bases from the 2010 WCWS team.
The Lady Vols open their new campaign in “The Sunshine State” at the Stetson Leadoff Classic in DeLand, Fla., with a Feb. 12th, meeting against Michigan State (11 a.m. ET).
The lady Vols have also been picked at the top of the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division according to the 2011 preseason poll of the league’s 11 softball coaching staffs. UT also garnered three votes as the choice to win the league’s regular season crown.
With 17 accumulated points the Big Orange led No. 3 Georgia (18 pts.) by a single point and defending SEC East titlist No. 5 Florida (22 pts.) by five tallies. Kentucky (37 pts.) and South Carolina (46 pts.) rounded out the five programs in the division. Amazingly, the SEC East enters the 2011 campaign boasting three of the top five teams in the country per the preseason USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) rankings.
The defending SEC regular season and tournament champion Alabama Crimson Tide (10 pts.) was selected to repeat both its division title and SEC overall crown. The gap between the sixth-ranked Tide and No. 19 LSU was nine points, while Auburn rated third with 33 tallies. Arkansas (fourth/36 pts.), Mississippi State (fifth/39 points) and Ole Miss (sixth/51 pts.) completed the West standings.
Points for the poll were awarded on a 1-2-3-4-5 basis for the Eastern Division and on a 1-2-3-4-5-6 basis for the Western Division. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team.
The Lady Vols start their new campaign at the Stetson Leadoff Classic in DeLand, Fla., on Feb 12th. During the event, Tennessee will face-off against Michigan State (twice), home-standing Stetson and Boston College. Live stats will be available through Gametracker and periodical updates will be posted on Twitter. Check both http://twitter.com/TennSoftball and http://twitter.com/UTLadyVols for more information on Tennessee Lady Vol softball.
2011 Preseason SEC Coaches Poll
Overall Conference Champion: Alabama (4), TENNESSEE (3), Georgia (3), Florida (1)
1. TENNESSEE (17 points)
2. Georgia (18 points)
3. Florida (22 points)
4. Kentucky (37 points)
5. South Carolina (46 points)
1. Alabama (10 points)
2. LSU (19 points)
3. Auburn (33 points)
4. Arkansas (36 points)
5. Mississippi State (46 points)
6. Ole Miss (51 points)