Lady Vols chat with media
While the Lady Vols’ support staff loaded gear – everything from bats and balls to cases of water – onto the team bus under a blazing sun, the players and coaches handled interviews inside the cool comfort of the Lee Stadium clubhouse. The bus departed Monday and will be waiting for the team when it lands Tuesday at the Oklahoma City airport. Tennessee will be one of five SEC teams in Oklahoma among the final eight still playing. “It just shows how tough this conference is,” Cheyanne Tarango said. Tarango is one of just two seniors on the squad – the other is Tory Lewis – and they become the 15th and 16th Lady Vols to play in three Women’s College World Series events. Tennessee will open play against Florida at noon Eastern on Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium (TV: ESPN). The matchup of LSU and Auburn follows in what is an All-SEC half of the bracket. Co-head coach Karen Weekly noted the conference tied the record for most teams in the WCWS and did so during a tougher era in the sport. When the record was set by the Pac-12, the SEC was barely a blip on the softball radar. “In this era, I think it’s amazing to have five teams,” Weekly said. Co-head coach Ralph Weekly expressed surprise that it wasn’t six – he expected Missouri to make it to Oklahoma City. “It’s a fantastic conference,” he said. “No question about it.” Tennessee wants to join the league schools that have won a national title in Alabama and Florida. The Lady Vols, who were picked in preseason to finish eighth in their own conference, are now one of the last eight teams in the country to still be playing. “This is really a team,” Karen Weekly said. “There is no superstar.” She noted the team didn’t have a go-to pitcher or hitter, just a collection of players willing to work hard and battle. In terms of pitching, the Lady Vols got some good news about junior Erin Gabriel, who was limited in the Super Regional because of hip issues. “Erin is good,” Weekly said. “Erin had a bullpen workout and felt good.” Tennessee would love to get the bat of sophomore Annie Aldrete back on track. Aldrete hit. .322 this season with 15 home runs but has struggled in postseason to get on base. “She has kind of struggled, but she actually hit the ball hard here in the Super Regional,” Weekly said. “This team hasn’t come to rely on her all of the time.” Weekly meant that as an indication of the team’s depth and ability to win games by using a committee of pitchers and having different people in the lineup step up at different times. During the SEC tourney, it was the bottom of the lineup that was consistently productive. The upperclassmen have WCWS experience and have shared their advice with the freshmen and sophomores, who will be playing in their first. The veterans compared it to the SEC tourney. “We had a meeting about it the other day,” Tarango said. “It’s like that, only bigger.” Weekly noted, “They have shared with the younger kids what to expect.” “Like Karen said, ‘It’s 60 feet, turn left,’ ” Tarango added. Sophomore Megan Geer is ready to see the big stage. “Any team that goes there has a chance to win,” Geer said. “We’re going to give it our best shot.” The Lady Vols have shown they can win in a variety of ways – from the long ball to small ball. They have been particularly adept at playing from behind without any sense of panic. “I think the fact we’ve come back so many times from behind we don’t get tense,” Geer said. Still, Geer, her teammates and coaches would enjoy getting a lead and keeping it in Oklahoma City. “By no means are we just happy to be there,” Weekly said. “We are playing to win.” Tarango and Lewis exited Knoxville by winning their last game at Lee Stadium. The two seniors now will finish their careers at the pinnacle of the sport. “It’s great to know we’re going to end it there,” Tarango said. Tory Lewis interview with InsideTennessee The senior talks about her mother’s support, ending her career in Oklahoma City and how she will be back at Tennessee next season as a graduate assistant while pursuing a master’s degree.
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