UT's Abbott is Pitcher of Year

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Lady Vol Monica Abbott (Salinas, Calif.) was named as the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year and third-year UT mentors Ralph and Karen Weekly were recognized as the Coaches of the Year at the league's annual banquet on Wednesday night before the SEC Tournament begins tomorrow morning. Tennessee (51-12) was also presented with the Eastern Division hardware prior to its encounter with Mississippi State (37-22) at 11 a.m. CT.

"These awards are recognition for the effort and hard work that our players have expended throughout the season," said Ralph Weekly. "To win any honor in the SEC is a great achievement because of the caliber of players and coaches."

A total of three Lady Vols were chosen to the All-SEC softball teams. Abbott and sophomore Kristi Durant (Placentia, Calif.) were chosen to the first team, while senior Angela Brewer (East Ridge, Tenn.) earned a berth on the second team. In addition, Abbott was named to the league's All-Freshman squad. Durant became the initial Tennessee player to achieve first-team status twice and joins Kelli Fitzgerald and Kenyail Norris as the lone UT players who have collected all-conference kudos multiple times. Abbott's recognition as both the Pitcher and Freshman of the Year represented the first time a Lady Vol had been honored in either category.

The Weeklys garnered their first-ever SEC Coaches of the Year accolade after guiding Tennessee to its second East title in school history and the program's most league victories since 1997 (20). Prior to the Weeklys taking over in the summer of 2001, the Lady Vols had finished last in the division two straight seasons. Over their three years at the helm, they have guided UT to an overall record of 131-62-1 (.678) and have the squad positioned to earn its first NCAA Regional bid since '99.

"We are humbled to receive this award. There are many outstanding coaches in the league who deserve this recognition. It is especially rewarding to be selected by our peers, who we respect so much. No coach ever receives an award of this type unless they have quality players who put them in a position to be successful."

In what has been a remarkable campaign, Abbott has provided an immediate impact for the Big Orange. The left-hander was among the 10 finalists for USA Softball's Collegiate Player of the Year Award and snared the SEC Pitcher of the Week award four times, including an unprecedented stretch of three times in a row. During league play, Abbott finished 16-5 with a 1.20 earned run average, hurled seven solo shutouts and picked up a couple of saves. She completed all 19 of her starts and struck out 214 batters in 145.1 innings.

The southpaw will carry an overall record of 42-6 and a 0.74 ERA into tomorrow's clash with the Bulldogs and needs 20 strikeouts to eclipse Cat Osterman's NCAA freshman mark of 554 K established in 2002. In addition, she is currently tied with Oregon's Katie Wiese for the most triumphs by a rookie. Abbott is just the second Lady Vol hurler to reap All-SEC, as Buffy Walker accomplished the feat in 1997.

"Monica is very deserving of these honors, she is an extremely hard-working individual who practices extra every day to become better in every aspect of her game. She epitomizes the perfect student-athlete who strives to excel in the classroom and on the softball diamond. We are very proud to be her coaches."

With a .425 average through her 28 conference outings, Durant finished third in the race for the SEC batting title behind All-Americans Jackie McClain and Iyhia McMichael. The third baseman was 34-for-80, drove in 15 runs, drew 15 walks and poked five doubles. She is hitting .344 overall with 33 RBI, 17 runs and 11 two-baggers and was chosen all-tournament at the New Mexico State Invitational in February. Durant is the program's career leader with a .386 clip and boasts a .489 on-base percentage entering this week's event.

"Kristi is one of the best pure hitters we have ever coached. She's good in clutch situations and is another individual who works extremely hard to better her skills."

Brewer paced the Lady Vols with 17 RBI in SEC activity, including a pair of game-winning home runs against South Carolina, and turned in a .304 performance at the dish. The first baseman also earned the third all-league honor of her career after being chosen All-Southern Conference at Chattanooga in 2000 and 2001. Earlier this season, she was an all-tourney selection at the Compass Bank Invitational hosted by Baylor University.

"We are especially happy for Angela because she had to improve her game so much because of the great pitching in the SEC. She never shirked from the challenge, knowing that she had to work harder than anyone else on our squad to get where she wants to be as an SEC hitter. This is a very special award for her."

Mississippi State senior outfielder Iyhia McMichael, Mississippi State senior infielder Kate Jaspers and South Carolina sophomore catcher Ashley Smith took home other awards announced Wednesday night. McMichael received SEC Player of the Year and first-team All-SEC honors, while first-team honoree Jaspers and Smith were named Co-SEC Scholar-Athletes of the Year.

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