Softball vs Kansas

Tennessee softball Co-head Coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly with Haley Bearden, #11, during game against Kansas on Feb. 22, 2019 at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.

The Lady Vols begin their season this Friday, after an extra long offseason due to COVID-19. 

The Lady Vols’ softball season ended in mid-March last season, leaving half of the season and playoffs not played. The team had their offseason extended by over two months. 

While this unexpected ending was crushing to the team, they were able to find silver linings in all of it, one being more time for physical recovery.  

“I think [the extended offseason] may have helped us,” coach Karen Weekly said. “We had some kids that were injured last year and recovering from injuries. 

“I think it gave them some extra time and some extra rest to get healthy. As much as we hated for the season to end so abruptly like it did it may have been a blessing in disguise.”

A long offseason got the team more excited to play and put their offseason progress to work. 

“I think if anything it just gets the team excited to play,” senior infielder Chelsea Seggern said. “We’re kind of tired of playing each other and we’re just ready to face another opponent and just be able to put our work from the offseason and the fall into a real game and into the season.”

Over the course of last season and the offseason, the team was nursing a few injuries as well as dealing with recovery from surgery. 

Junior pitcher Ashley Rogers missed the entirety of last season due to injury, but now has fully recovered and is ready to make an impact for the Lady Vols this season. 

While the team was hurt by the loss of Rogers last season, they were able to find silver linings in the experience that younger players were able to get. 

Sophomore catcher Callie Turner jumped into the role that Rogers would have been playing last season, and this forced her to adapt quickly while also giving her experience she otherwise would not have had.

“You just can’t put a price tag on experience, no matter what kind of experience it is,” Weekly said. “Whether you have great success or you struggle, you have to figure out a way to rebound and be resilient and I think that can only serve Callie well. 

“I think she’s already proved a lot this year.”

Seggern is recovering from an offseason surgery, but she believes the offseason surgery will be beneficial to her game this spring. 

“I think definitely it has propelled me forward in my mental game,” Seggern said. “Obviously, I wasn’t able to get in a lot of reps physically, so my mental game has definitely increased. 

“My mental game needed work so if anything, I think it’s going to propel me forward.”

The Lady Vols are also adapting to a new pitching coach, Megan Smith. Smith, who joined the team in June, is making her return to Rocky Top, as she pitched for the team from 2005 to 2008. 

Being a former player, Smith has valuable insight to contribute to the team. 

“I think they’ve adapted very well and very quickly,” Weekly said. “I think that they’re working together extremely well, and the team has a really good relationship with her. 

“I think that’s one thing she does really well, builds individual relationships and really understands how to coach each of them the way they need to be coached.”

Smith understands what it means to be a Lady Vol and Weekly believes that experience will have an impact on players.

“That wasn’t a criterion that we had when we were looking for someone to fill that position,” Weekly said. “But it was sort of the cherry on top of the Sunday that the person we found that checked every other box we wanted also wore the Lady Vol uniform and knows exactly what it’s like to be in their shoes.

“She can relate to everything they’re going through and what it means to carry on the Lady Vol legacy.”

The Lady Vols will begin their season Friday at 9:30 a.m. against Ohio University in the Kickin’ Chicken Classic in Conway, South Carolina. The team has a full slate of games that follow, taking on Coastal Carolina, Akron and UCONN over the course of the weekend.

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