Lady Vol softball makes history

A perfect 4-0 start to the 2007 campaign and a title at the Carolina Classic have helped the Tennessee Lady Vol softball team achieve history. The Big Orange have climbed to No. 1 for the first time in program history according to the latest release of the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll on Tuesday.

UT becomes the first member of the powerful Southeastern Conference ever to be tabbed to the nation's top spot and just the second squad east of the Mississippi River (Michigan in 2005, 2006) to be selected as the country's number one team.

"This No. 1 rating reflects the hard work of our players, the tremendous support of our university and the overall strength of the SEC," co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly said. "We are proud to represent our league with this rating. We also realize that this is an early poll, and that there are many superb teams throughout the country. Our goal is the same as most programs across the nation, and that's to be in this position at the end of the year."

The softball squad becomes the third program in Lady Vol history to reach the nation's top spot. Coach J.J. Clark's 2005 Indoor Track & Field team was the preseason choice for No. 1 by Trackwire.

The squad held down the position for the majority of the indoor campaign before proving the prognosticators correct by winning its first national title in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The six-time national champion Lady Vol basketball team first rose to the top spot in the country to christen the 1977-78 campaign. Head Coach Pat Head Summitt's program has now picked up a record 92 nods as No. 1 according to the Associated Press rankings.

Tennessee rolled through this past weekend's Carolina Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C., outscoring its opposition by a 30-3 count with three run-rule contests and a team batting average of .398.

Senior pitcher Monica Abbott was at her best in posting a 3-0 mark with a 0.00 ERA and 44 strikeouts in just 17 innings of work. The Salinas, Calif., native also struck out the side in 11 of the 17 innings in which she worked, and, in two frames each against Penn State and College of Charleston, the 6-3 lefthander whiffed all six batters she faced.

Sophomore third baseman Jennifer Griffin led the way offensively at a staggering .900 clip (9-of-10) with two doubles, two home runs, a 1.700 slugging percentage and seven RBIs.

Senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler hit .600 (6-of-10) with two stolen bases, four runs scored and two RBIs. Freshmen Tiffany Huff (.417) and Alexia Clay (.600) each registered their initial hits, runs scored, RBI and home runs as part of the Orange & White.

Last week's top team, the defending national champion Arizona Wildcats, dropped to No. 4 after suffering losses to Texas A&M and Florida at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State raced from No. 5 up to the second spot while the red-hot Aggies were the week's big mover by skyrocketing from No. 14 up to third after their dominant week at the Kajikawa Classic.

A pair of SEC programs, Alabama and LSU, sit in a deadlock for fifth to round out the top five. Georgia dropped to No. 18 after a pair of defeats to Louisiana-Lafayette at the Louisiana Classic. The Florida Gators shocked Arizona and went 4-1 in Tempe to move from "others receiving votes" to No. 19 this week.

The No. 1 Lady Vols will next be in action on Friday, Feb. 16, at noon ET against Florida International in the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas. Gametracker will be available and periodic updates will be provided on the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box # 6).

SOFTBALL HONORS: Monica Abbott has been chosen as the initial SEC Pitcher of the Week.

The 6-3 lefthander was at her best on perhaps the largest stage of the tournament in front of a record crowd of 1,244 fans at Eugene Anderson Stadium versus home-standing North Carolina . Abbott struck out 19 batters in an eight-inning no-hitter to register her 17th career no-no. The performance included four K's in one inning after a wild pitch eluded the Lady Vol catcher allowing a Tar Heel punch-out victim to reach first safely.

With 142 career triumphs, Abbott now stands just 10 victories from breaking the NCAA Division I career victory record held by former Southern Miss hurler Courtney Blades of 151 wins. She trails former Texas pitcher Cat Osterman's national strikeout mark by 505 K's after her 44 strikeout effort in North Carolina.

The weekly conference award is the 13th of the three-time All-American's career after she received the Pitcher of the Week honor four times during her freshman season, on five occasions in 2005 and three times last year.

Three Lady Vol softball players were selected to the Carolina Classic All-Tournament Team.

Abbott, sophomore third baseman Jennifer Griffin and senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler each made outstanding contributions for UT as the squad defeated its four opponents by a combined score of 30-3 with three run-rule games. The Big Orange hit .398 as a team while the pitching staff limited a quartet of Coastal Carolina, Penn State, North Carolina and the College of Charleston to just two earned runs in 23 innings.

Griffin set the tone at the dish for the Big Orange by hitting an amazing .900 with two doubles, two home runs and seven runs-batted-in. Her second big fly came at a crucial juncture in the top of the sixth inning of a scoreless contest against North Carolina. In front of a program record 1,244 Tar Heel fans, the Whittier, Calif., product drove a Lisa Norris offering directly over the "200" sign in center field. UT would, of course, prevail over UNC in extra innings by a 2-1 count.

Asked to produce from the lead-off position in the batting order, Schutzler hit at a .600 (6-of-10) clip with a double, two stolen bases, four runs scored, a .692 on-base percentage and a pair of RBI. The Monterey, Calif, native hit safely in all four contests with a pair of base knocks in UT's victories over Coastal Carolina and North Carolina.

SEC FAVORITES: Coming off its second consecutive trip to the Women's College World Series and a record-setting 61-12 campaign, the softball team has been selected by the league's coaches as the unanimous choice to win the 2007 SEC regular-season title.

The Big Orange received the maximum possible 10 of 11 first-place votes (coaches aren't allowed to vote for their own team), while Florida picked up the remaining nod. UT totaled 10 points to lead Georgia (21 pts.), Florida (26 pts.), South Carolina (39 pts.) and Kentucky (44 pts.) as the choice for Eastern Division champion.

The LSU Tigers, who finished the 2006 regular season in third-place overall (second in the West) and lost 3-0 to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament final in Athens, Ga., led the voting tally in the Western Division with 14 points. Defending SEC regular season titlist and 2006 Women's College World Series participant Alabama (15 pts.) trailed the Bayou Bengals in the preseason standings by just a single point.

Points for the poll were awarded on a 1-2-3-4-5 basis for the Eastern Division and on a 1-2-3-4-5-6 basis for the Western Division. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team, with 10 votes counting as a unanimous vote.

This year's version of the Lady Vol softball squad returns 12 letterwinners and six position starters from another record-setting, third-place finish in Oklahoma City. UT boasts all 61 of its pitching wins back in the form of senior first-team National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-American and national win leader Monica Abbott (44-10, 0.95 ERA, 531 K's) as well as junior standout Megan Rhodes (17-2, 1.40 ERA, 148 K's).

Tennessee also returns 65% of its program-best run total from 2006, 59% of the hits, 58% of doubles, 83% of the triples, 70% of the home runs, 57% of the RBI and 73% of the stolen bases back from a squad that led the nation in hitting at .342 overall. Highlighting the position returnees are '06 first-team NFCA All-Americans Lindsay Schutzler (.409 avg., 94 H, 72 R, 8 3B, 29 SB) and Tonya Callahan (.365 avg., 14 2B, 13 HR, 73 RBI) and India Chiles (.437 avg., 66 H, 48 R, 19 SB), the Southeastern Conference's top returning hitter.

During the 2007 slate the Lady Vols are guaranteed to play 12 opponents spanning at least 23 contests that competed in last year's NCAA Tournament. Included in that contingent are 2006 Women's College World Series participant Alabama and four other Southeastern Conference rivals that made last year's field of 64.

PRESEASON ALL-AMERICANS: Preparing to leap into her final season at UT, Monica Abbott has been selected as one of 12 preseason first-team All-Americans by ESPN.com. She is one of three pitchers chosen to the first team, joining Arizona State's Katie Burkhart and UCLA's Anjelica Selden as hurlers included in the prestigious listing.

In addition, Abbott and two Lady Vol softball teammates have made the "Top 50 Watch List" for the Sixth Annual USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award according to a release from the Amateur Softball Association (ASA). The list is comprised of players representing 33 schools and 11 different conferences throughout NCAA Division I.

Abbott, senior outfielder Lindsay Schutzler and junior infielder Tonya Callahan are three of 10 players from the Southeastern Conference to make the listing. Each of the Big Orange's three honorees is returning as a 2006 first-team Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-American.

The top 25 finalists for the prestigious honor will be announced April 4 with the group being trimmed down to 10 nominees on May 9. The final three will be selected on May 23 with the winner to be presented her award prior to the start of the annual Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla.


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