Lady Vol softball begins practice

With light rain falling, fog in the area and temperatures hovering just under the 50-degree plateau on Monday in Knoxville, the Tennessee Lady Vol softball squad was forced indoors to begin spring preparations for the 2012 campaign on the football turf inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex.

"Today was a really exciting day for our team as everyone reported back to campus after the break in shape, healthy and with a passion to prepare for a new season," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said.

"We held solid defensive fundamental and hitting sessions as our players eagerly began their preparations for what should be a challenging year during both our preseason and Southeastern Conference schedules."

This year's edition of the Big Orange softball squad returns 15 letter-winners, including seven that started at least 31 games in 2011, and welcomes back all 49 pitching victories from the circle. Tennessee bolsters that impressive depth with the addition of a high-profile class of four newcomers that was rated No. 2 in the nation for 2011 by ESPN RISE.

In all, Tennessee returns 74 percent of the total hits, 78 percent of the runs, 67 percent of the doubles, 75% of the triples, 68% of the home runs, 74 percent of the RBIs and 83 percent of the stolen bases from a team that reached as high as No. 3 in the national rankings while completing the 2011 season as the NCAA Division I's top offense by batting average (.348).

Included among the returnees for the Lady Vols are (2011 stat totals in parentheses): 2011 Louisville Slugger/NFCA First Team All-American and current USA Softball Senior Women's National Team member Lauren Gibson (Junior, 2B—2011 SEC batting champion counting SEC games only at .451, .420 avg., 13 doubles, eight HRs, 63 RBIs, 12-12 stolen bases), 2011 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Top 10 Finalist and Louisville Slugger/NFCA Second Team All-American Raven Chavanne (Junior, 3B/OF—2011 SEC batting champion counting all games, .455 avg., 90 hits, 66 runs scored, 33-36 stolen bases), 2011 Louisville Slugger/NFCA Third Team All-American Ellen Renfroe (Sophomore, P—45 appearances, 27 games started, 26-7 record, 1.50 ERA, 259 Ks in 201.0 IP), 2011 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Top 25 Finalist and Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Southeast Region selection Kat Dotson (Junior, OF--.401 avg., 73 hits, 54 runs scored, 10 HR's, 64 RBIs, 26-31 stolen bases), 2011 Southeastern Conference All-Freshman choice and recent USA Softball Junior Women's National Team member Madison Shipman (Sophomore, IF--.292 avg., eight doubles, five HR's, 27 RBIs), power-hitting utility player Shelby Burchell (Senior, UTL--.325 avg., 15 HRs, 54 RBIs) and 2010 Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Southeast Region selection Ivy Renfroe (Junior, P—37 appearances, 25 games started, 19-4 record, 2.07 ERA, 157 Ks in 152.1 IP).

Highlighting the Lady Vol freshman class are Cheyanne Tarango (P/IF, Anaheim Hills, Calif.), Hannah Akamine (C/IF, Escondido, Calif.,), Haley Fagan (P/IF, Cornersville, Tenn.) and Hannah Trainer (IF, Brentwood, Tenn.).

Tarango recently helped the USA Softball Junior Women's National Team to the ISF Junior Women's World Championship in Cape Town, South Africa, blasting a game-winning grand slam during a title-winning, 4-1 victory over Japan.

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