The No. 6 Tennessee softball team is about to embark on one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
Tennessee decided not to take the easy route by constructing one of the more rigorous non-conference schedules in the country.
A team looking to avenge an exit in last year’s NCAA Super Regionals seemingly wanted to challenge itself early on to be prepared for a gauntlet conference schedule, looking to contend for a Women’s College World Series National Championship.
“One of the things that Pat Summitt told us is to schedule tough out of conference,” co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “We have found that in the past that the RPI is the main thing that decides if you go to the World Series. We are hoping to get our kids seasoned early and get them ready for a tough conference schedule.”
Tennessee has executed that by scheduling its first 11 games of the season away from Knoxville.
It’s already gotten off to a solid 5-0 start after sweeping its opponents in the Kickin’ Chicken Classic this past weekend, but three of its next six games are against Top-25 teams including defending champs Florida State.
The Lady Vols will finally have a game at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium two weeks into the season on Feb. 22. The weekend will include a five-game slate in three days.
Once they gather their breath, Tennessee will travel across the country to Fullerton, California for the Judi Garman Classic for five games including No. 19 Michigan and No. 25 Oregon.
The following week, the Lady Vols have a dance with No. 5 Florida down in Gainesville before a midweek battle with Middle Tennessee in a neutral site game.
The weekend of March 14-17 will see Tennessee play host to BYU and No. 16 Texas in the Tennessee Invitational.
In a midweek turnaround, the Lady Vols will travel to Virginia for a doubleheader with Liberty and then on to Chapel Hill for a game with North Carolina.
This non-conference slate will be an appetizer for the gauntlet that is the SEC.
Five of Tennessee’s seven SEC matchups down the stretch are against top-25 squads.
No. 14 Arkansas will make the trip to Knoxville on the weekend of March 22 for a three-game series.
The following weekend Tennessee will be on the road to Missouri for a three-game slate with the Tigers.
No. 17 Auburn comes to town April 6-8 followed by No. 24 Mississippi State.
Tennessee will then go to Athens for a much anticipated matchup with Georgia, the team that eliminated them from the Super Regionals in last year’s big dance.
The last road test for the Lady Vols will come April 26-28 when they travel to Oxford to take on Ole Miss.
To wrap up the regular season, Tennessee will play host to No. 20 Texas A&M May 3-5.
One of the biggest keys for Tennessee during this tough schedule is the play of its pitching staff. One area of concern in past seasons was the lack of pitching depth that it possessed. Now the Lady Vols can go four deep at the position and they hope that it pays dividends late in the season.
“I think (the depth) helps a lot,” co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “If you only go with three pitchers, and one is injured or sick or something like that, then you go into a weekend with just two and you really struggle. We’ve seen that happen the last couple of years.”
Freshman Ashley Rogers has been added to the mix along with experienced senior Matty Moss and 2017 SEC Freshman of the Year Caylan Arnold. Even sophomore Ashley Morgan has seen action on the mound after being named to the 2018 SEC All-Freshman Team.