The No. 6 Tennessee softball team rides into the 2019 season on the heels of a Super Regional finish in last year’s NCAA Tournament. With its season ending in the Round of 16 in back-to-back years, the Lady Vols will try to get back to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2015.
Co-head coaches Karen and Ralph Weekly will have some familiar faces in the dugout this season, along with the incoming Gatorade Tennessee Softball Player of the Year. Ashley Rodgers headlined a recruiting class that looks to bring a new level of depth to the program.
Matty Moss returns for her senior season after having 11 strikeouts in 11.1 innings during the NCAA Tournament run last year. She enters with a career ERA of 1.73, which is third in program history, and 280 strikeouts. She is the most experienced pitcher on the Lady Vols pitching staff.
Caylan Arnold, a junior, will be a part of the rotation as well. As a sophomore, she finished with a 26-6 record, along with three saves in a closer role. She was named to the SEC All-Tournament team last May.
Rodgers was part of back-to-back state championships while at the high school level. In her time at Meigs County High School, she recorded six perfect games along with 20 shutouts.
Those three pitchers will carry most of the load for Tennessee and they have confidence from the coaches, but the team will need find more depth as they eye a long postseason run.
“Your ideal pitching staff is probably four pitchers,” Karen Weekly said, “The fourth one is someone who can play other positions, as well as pitching in a part time role. You need (at least) three to be confident you are going to be successful.
“I like our pitching staff a lot. We have a lot of experience with Mosa and Arnold…Ashley is very composed (as a freshman), what I like most is her mental game.”
Junior center fielder Jenna Holcomb comes into the season with a career .374 batting average, along with 14 stolen bases for the Lady Vols. During her sophomore year she ripped off a 21-game hitting streak and will look to get back into that groove as the season moves along.
Sophomore Amanda Ayala was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team during her first year on campus. She recorded a .289 batting average with two home runs, 21 RBIs and five stolen bases. In her best game as a freshman, she went 3-for-4 against the Missouri Tigers with four RBIs in an 11-3 win.
With the three spots in the outfield, the Lady Vols will look to find a third to go along with Holcomb and Ayala. It can come in the form of Kali Phillips, a freshman product from Chattanooga, or senior Hayley Bearden, who has 45 career starts entering 2019 and holds a career .338 on-base percentage. Both will see action in 2019.
“There is a lot of emphasis on hitting. (We) have a lot of people teaching good things,” Karen Weekly said.
Senior leader Aubrey Leach comes in to 2019 with 185 starts in 185 appearances for the Lady Vols. The durable Leach has been in the offensive spotlight during her career, recording 190 career runs scored, 23 doubles and 65 RBIs. She will lead the team from either of the inside-infield positions throughout the season.
Junior Chelsea Seggern will be on the hot-corner at third base in a typical Tennessee lineup. She has 127 starts in 127 appearances for the Lady Vols. Offensively, she had 10 homeruns and 103 RBIs during her first two years on campus.
At first base, sophomore Ashley Morgan will be a staple for the Lady Vols this season. After being named to the All-SEC Freshman Team, her sophomore season presents an opportunity to grow on the five homeruns and six doubles she recorded. She also had 31 RBIs to go along with a .994 fielding percentage on last year’s stat sheet.
Morgan could be one of the players the coaches look to for relief of the pitching staff. As a freshman, Morgan had four appearances at the center-circle, recording 6.2 innings of work.
Tennessee is off to a 5-0 start after sweeping its competition in the Kickin’ Chicken Classic.