KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) –The Tennessee softball program released its 2013 schedule on Wednesday. The Lady Vols, who made their fifth Women’s College World Series appearance in the last eight years, will play arguably one of the most difficult schedules in the nation this spring.
“This is the toughest schedule we have had in our years at Tennessee,” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “Our goal is to prepare our team mentally and physically for the long season and embrace the challenges it will bring. It is essential that we approach the season one game at a time and enjoy the privilege of being able to compete against so many great teams. You must play the best if you hope to be the best.”
UT’s 2013 schedule will include 28 games against teams who made the 2012 NCAA Tournament, 14 games against teams that have been to the Women’s College World Series teams in the last three years and five three-game series (15 games) against SEC rivals who hosted NCAA Regionals last year.
Tennessee’s SEC slate is tied for the toughest in the league as the median 2012 final RPI of its eight opponents is 13.5.
Tennessee went 52-14 last year and its .788 win percentage ranked eighth in the nation. The Lady Vols’ .982 fielding percentage was the best in the nation. In the circle, UT pitchers combined for a 1.58 ERA – the 11th-lowest in the country.
The Lady Vols return 14 players from its 2012 Women’s College World series team, including seven starters and two starting pitchers. UT also returns all four of its 2012 Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Americans in Lauren Gibson, Ellen Renfroe, Raven Chavanne and Madison Shipman.
In the circle, UT brings the dynamic duo of sisters Ellen Renfroe (27-5, 1.24 ERA, 280 Ks) and Ivy Renfroe (25-9, 1.80 ERA, 197 Ks).
The Tennessee also returns almost all of its 2012 offense. All six of the team’s 2012 All-SEC selections, Chavanne, Gibson, Shipman, Kat Dotson and Melissa Davin, will be back to bolster the UT lineup. The Lady Vols bring back 81 percent of the runs, 81 percent of the hits, 80 percent of the extra-base hits, 81 percent of the RBI and 90 percent of the stolen bases from 2012.
The Lady Vols will open 2013 at the Red Desert Classic, playing six games from Feb. 7-10 in St. George, Utah. UT’s season opener is against Southern Utah on Feb. 7. Tennessee plays Utah State and Idaho State the next day before facing a 2012 NCAA tournament team in BYU and South Dakota on Feb. 8. UT concludes its stay in Utah with a game against 2011 Women’s College World Series team Oklahoma State on Feb. 10.
The next week, Tennessee heads south to Tampa, Fla., to play in the in the USF 4 Team Tournament from Feb. 15-17. Coastal Carolina, a 2012 NCAA tournament team, and NC State are UT’s opponents on Feb. 15. The Lady Vols play host and 2012 Women’s College World Series team USF on Feb. 16 followed by a semifinal game. The finals will take place Feb. 17.
Tennessee travels to the Golden Coast the following week to take part in the Cathedral City Classic from Feb. 21-23 in Cathedral City, Calif. This non-conference tournament will feature three opponents who played in last year’s NCAA Tournament in Long Beach State, Northwestern and perennial powerhouse UCLA. UT opens against Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton on Feb. 21 and faces Northwestern and UCLA the next day. The Lady Vols conclude their California trip against UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 23.
Many fans will get their first in-person look at the 2013 Lady Vols on Feb. 26 when Tennessee opens the gates at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium for a Tuesday evening game against Lipscomb. Tennessee has won its last 76 games against in-state opponents and is 104-3 all-time against teams from The Volunteer State. Under Ralph Weekly and Karen Weekly, the Lady Vols are a perfect 70-0 against in-state foes.
UT’s final non-conference tournament of the season is the Charleston Southern Invitational, held from March 2-3 in North Charleston, S.C. Tennessee will play the host Lady Bucs both days. On March 2, UT will play Valparaiso, a 2012 NCAA Tournament team and the defending Horizon League champions. On March 3, Tennessee will play UNC Wilmington.
Tennessee’s challenging SEC schedule starts up five days after the team returns to Knoxville. The SEC’s old 28-game conference tilt has been changed to a 24-game format with no more mid-week SEC doubleheaders. The Lady Vols open SEC play March 8-10 with perhaps its toughest weekend of the regular season, hosting three games against Alabama, the defending national champions. The Crimson Tide is the reigning SEC Tournament and regular season champion. Alabama returns 14 letterwinners from its title team.
After a Tuesday home game against Winthrop on March 12, the Lady Vols set out for Gainesville, Fla., to face a potent Florida squad that has been to two of the last three Women’s College World Series and went 48-13 last season. UT plays the Gators from March 15-17.
A March 19 non-conference game against Murray State opens a six-game, three week home stretch for the Lady Vols. UT hosts new conference member and 2012 NCAA tourney participant Texas A&M during the weekend of March 22-24. Non-conference games against Eastern Kentucky (March 27) and Tennessee State (April 2) round out UT’s longest home stretch of the season.
From April 5-7, Tennessee plays at Georgia. The Bulldogs advanced out of their 2012 NCAA regional but fell to the Lady Vols in the Knoxville Super Regionals in three games. Georgia still has three players on its roster from its 2010 Women’s College World Series team.
After an April 10 home game against Tennessee Tech, UT plays a three-game home series against Auburn (another NCAA Tournament team) from April 12-14 before hitting the road for three games at Ole Miss from April 19-21.
Tennessee’s final non-conference regular season games are on April 24 when the Lady Vols host James Madison for a doubleheader.
UT’s final SEC home series is against Arkansas (2012 NCAA qualifier) from April 26-28. The Lady Vols close the regular season with a tough series at 2012 NCAA Super Regional qualifier Missouri from May 3-5.
The 2013 SEC Tournament will be held the week following the end of the regular season in Lexington, Ky., and remain in its eight-team, single elimination format.
The NCAA Tournament will start in mid-May and the 2013 Women’s College World Series will take place May 30-June 5 at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.