Lady Vols rack up softball awards

AUBURN, Ala. – With an historic weekend that witnessed both the fall of a storied national record and the clinching of the program's initial SEC regular-season championship, the No. 1 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (53-4, 23-4) will return to the diamond to open defense of its 2006 SEC Tournament title on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET against eight-seeded Ole Miss (24-33, 11-17).

The Big Orange have controlled the series against the Rebels by maintaining a 24-4 overall record since the two squads' initial meetings back on April 12, 1997. All four Ole Miss triumphs have occurred in Oxford as Ole Miss registered wins over UT on April 15, 2000 (1-4), March 11, 2001 (0-4, 10 inn.), May 3, 2003 (6-7) and this season on March 14 (4-5) as part of a mid-week doubleheader.

Since Lady Vol co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly took over control of the program prior to the 2002 campaign, Tennessee is a sparkling 14-2 against the Rebels.

An RBI single by clutch-hitting junior catcher Shannon Doepking in the seventh inning granted UT a 1-0 victory over Ole Miss in the first game of that doubleheader back on March 14 as Monica Abbott hurled a two-hit shutout with 17 strikeouts. The Rebels gained a measure of revenge in game two by roaring to a 5-0 lead before a late four-run, seventh-inning rally by the Lady Vols cut the deficit to a single tally. The Orange & White could get no closer, however, as Ole Miss handed Tennessee only its second defeat of 2007.

UT maintains a 13-12 overall record at the league's annual showcase event, but are 6-2 over the last two seasons following a perfect 3-0 title run during the 2006 SEC Tournament held at the UGA Softball Stadium in Athens, Ga. Last year's fourth-seeded Big Orange opened the '06 event with a 6-0 victory over fifth-seed Florida.

Junior hurler Megan Rhodes threw an outstanding game in the semifinals by allowing just one run on three hits with four K's over four innings as UT downed top-seeded Alabama, 2-1. The Lady Vols picked up their initial title live on Fox Sports Net (FSN) with a 3-0 victory over third-seeded LSU as pitcher Monica Abbott threw a five-hit shutout.

Under the direction of second-year head coach Missy Dickerson, a former standout during her playing days at UCLA, Ole Miss enters the SEC Tournament as the No. 8 seed with a 24-33 overall record. Ole Miss has played well despite facing an extremely difficult schedule to this point in 2007 with 17 of their 57 matchups having been played against nationally-ranked squads including non-conference foes Michigan (1-3), Arizona State (1-2), Baylor (0-5, 2-8), Louisiana-Lafayette (1-3) and Washington (3-8) and rated SEC teams including LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama.

Ole Miss has won a program-record 11 games during its rugged SEC this season. As a team, Ole Miss is hitting .251 (eighth in the league) with a team-record 37 home runs and 187 runs scored, while the Rebel pitching staff has permitted the opposition to cross the plate on 217 occasions and hit at a .250 clip with 25 big flies.

Offensively, freshman Lauren Grill (.329) has served as the squad's major power source with an Ole Miss-best 14 HR's, good enough for second in the SEC, and a team-high 31 RBI. Senior Mary Jane Callahan has recorded a .314 batting average with three home runs and 23 RBI. Sophomore Lisa Conchos (.273) and junior Lauren Rowe (.238) have also contributed seven and five homers to the team total, respectively.

Three Ole Miss hurlers have worked more than 100 innings in the circle with freshman Becky Nye getting the most work with a 5-17 record and a 3.36 ERA in 146 frames. Junior Tara Willitt has registered an 11-8 mark with a 2.70 ERA in 129.2 innings, while Callahan is 8-8 overall in 25 appearances with a 2.30 ERA in 106.2 frames. Defense has been a liability for the Rebels as the squad has committed 84 errors for a fielding percentage of just .952 to rate 10th of 11 teams in the SEC.

The Orange & White are fresh off clinching the program's first SEC regular-season championship with a high-profile doubleheader sweep of then-No. 1 Alabama in Knoxville by 9-2 and 4-0 scores.

Junior first baseman Tonya Callahan hit a remarkable .833 (5-of-6) against the Crimson Tide with a HR and six RBI to sweep the major weekly awards.

Abbott (40-2, 0.65 ERA, 560 K's in 269 innings) also made history by breaking the NCAA Division I career strikeout record formerly held by Texas' Cat Osterman with her first inning strikeout of Alabama freshman Charlotte Morgan. The Salinas, Calif., product has now extended her record to 2,276 strikeouts.

Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com, and periodic updates will be provided to the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6).

UT's run at the SEC Tournament will be broadcast live by The Sports Animal (99.1, 99.3 FM, 990 AM, through utladyvols.com via Yahoo Sports) with the "Voice of the Lady Vols" Mickey Dearstone on the call.

SEC AWARDS: The annual SEC awards have been announced and Tennessee has dominated the list. The Big Orange recorded wins in four of the five major categories including Pitcher, Player, Scholar-Athlete and Coach of the Year with five first-team All-SEC selections and an All-Freshman choice.

Monica Abbott was unanimous in receiving her third SEC Pitcher of the Year honor (2004, 2005) after recording a 19-2 conference record. Lead-off hitter India Chiles was tabbed as the SEC Player of the Year after hitting .544 in league play. Lindsay Schutzler's 3.88 GPA in psychology as well as her .406 average and team co-high 49 RBI garnered her the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.

Co-Head Coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly reaped their second SEC Coach of the Year trophy, after previously receiving the award in 2004, by guiding their charges to a 53-4 record, No. 1 in the polls, a top-seeding in the annual SEC Tournament and the program's initial SEC regular-season championship.

In all, six members of the Big Orange were tabbed to either the first-team or freshman All-SEC squads. Seniors Abbott, Schutzler and Chiles and juniors Tonya Callahan and Shannon Doepking each reaped a first-team nod as the Big Orange owned 42 percent of the 12-member first-team. Rookie Tiffany Huff also received one of the 14 All-Freshman selections.

This standout group of players have helped guide Tennessee to 12 total weeks at No. 1 in the national polls during the '07 campaign, the program's first SEC regular season championship, a top-seed in this week's upcoming SEC Tournament and a program-best 53-4 record.

Chiles currently leads the UT record books in batting average at .420, to stand .022 of a point ahead of former two-time All-American Sarah Fekete (.398), and on-base percentage (.458 – first), while her 81 total stolen bases are good for third in Lady Vol history.

One of only 12 players in NCAA Division I history to register 300 hits, 200 runs scored and 100 stolen bases in her playing career, Schutzler picks up her third overall All-SEC selection and second straight first-team choice. The Monterey, Calif., native's name is prominent

The NCAA Division I career leader in wins, shutouts, games played and strikeouts as well as a four-time All-SEC selection and three-time SEC Pitcher of the Year, Abbott is currently registering a K-per-seven inning ratio of 14.6 to remain well above her career average of 11.7.

In picking up her second consecutive first-team All-SEC selection, junior first baseman Callahan is fresh off her best weekend of the season in the doubleheader sweep of then-No. 1 Alabama. Callahan heads the Lady Vol record books for home runs with 34 career round trippers while rating second in slugging percentage (.599), eighth in hits (196), ninth in doubles (36) and in a tie for 10th in batting average (.349).

Junior catcher Shannon Doepking received her initial first-team All-SEC selection by setting the standard for clutch-hitting for the Lady Vol softball team in 2007 with five game-winning RBIs since March 14. Her efforts began at Ole Miss in the first game of a DH on March 14 by knocking in Tennessee's lone run in the seventh inning of a 1-0 victory.

The Acton, Calif., native continued her heroics on March 17 against Mississippi State with a walk-off double to left center in UT's 2-1, eight-inning win. Then came the first match-up versus South Carolina on March 21 as Doepking blasted a game-winning walk-off two-run homer to deep left in the bottom of the seventh inning during the Big Orange's 2-0 triumph. Most recently against Auburn, Doepking delivered a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 2-1, extra-inning win (April 21) and blasted a grand slam in the sixth inning during the finale to break a 1-1 tie as Tennessee completed a sweep of AU on April 22.

She has registered a .303 average with seven doubles, four HR's and 22 RBIs this season counting all games and a .310 mark with 13 RBI in SEC contests. She has thrown out 47 percent of base runners attempting to steal against her from behind the plate in 2007.

All-Freshman selection Huff has made quite a splash in her inaugural season donning the Orange & White by registering a .343 average while spending the majority of the season ranked in the top five in the SEC in RBI with her team co-leading total of 49. The Saugus, Calif., native has hit safely in 33 of her first 47 collegiate contests with two six-game hitting streaks and has blasted six home runs with a .521 slugging percentage.

Back during Tennessee's marathon 11-game West Coast swing in late February, prior to having to miss two weeks due to ankle surgery, Huff hit a remarkable .448 (13-of-29) with two doubles, three homers and 20 RBI to help UT continue its unbeaten start. She also tallied a .538 batting average with two home runs and 10 RBI during the Big Orange's title run at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic over Feb. 16-18. Huff delivered a career-best four RBI in wins over UC-Davis, Loyola Marymount (grand slam HR) and Toledo.

CALLAHAN SWEEP: Junior first baseman Tonya Callahan made it a clean sweep of every major weekly softball award by receiving National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Player of the Week honors Wednesday.

The Holden, Mo., native also received player of the week selections from the USA Softball and National Fastpitch Coaches Association and the SEC.

Callahan enters this weekend's SEC Tournament action with a .399 batting average (third on the team), 12 doubles, 10 home runs and a team co-best 49 RBI. She has already become the all-time Lady Vol career leader in big flies during the '07 season, now boasting 34 career round-trippers. She now has recorded 17 multi-hit games and 12 multi-RBI contests in 2007.

Callahan joins Monica Abbott as Big Orange recipients of the NFCA National Player of the Week award during the 2007 campaign. UT's three-time All-American and 6'3 lefty earned the honor back on Feb. 21, 2007, after throwing two no-hitters with a 4-0 record during Tennessee's run to the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic title in Las Vegas.

NO. 1 AGAIN: A sweep of Alabama has helped Tennessee climb back into the No. 1 position in the latest release of the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) rankings. This marks the 12th overall week during the 2007 campaign that UT has spent in the nation's top position.

Despite falling 9-2 and 4-0 to the Big Orange, last week's top-rated Crimson Tide (50-6) still managed to pick up a single first-place vote while dropping a spot to second. The Oklahoma Sooners (49-6) remained third, while defending national champion Arizona (38-10-1) garnered the final remaining first-place nod to improve one slot to No. 4. After losing two of three games at Georgia, LSU (49-10) fell from fourth to fifth in the newest listing.

NATIONAL CUTS: Two members of the softball team, senior pitcher Monica Abbott and senior outfielder/shortstop Lindsay Schutzler, have made the cut as two of 11 finalists for the prestigious USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award, according to a Wednesday release from the Amateur Softball Association (ASA), the national governing body of softball in the United States.

The USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award, in its sixth year, is designed to recognize outstanding athletic achievement by NCAA Division I collegiate softball players across the country.

The final list of 11 candidates will be trimmed to three on May 23 with those players traveling to Oklahoma City, Okla., for the announcement of the winner at the 2007 NCAA Women's College World Series. A replica of the award will be placed on permanent display in the ASA National Softball Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, along with photos of the winner. An additional replica of the award will be presented to the player's academic institution at a sporting event in the fall.

The NCAA Division I career leader in wins, shutouts, games played and strikeouts as well as a four-time All-SEC selection and three-time SEC Pitcher of the Year, Abbott is currently registering a K-per-seven inning ratio of 14.6 to remain well above her career average of 11.7. The 6'3 lefthander currently guides the SEC in ERA (0.65), strikeouts (560), solo shutouts (21), starts (38), complete games (33) and opposing batting average (.102). Abbott registered the fourth-longest shutout streak of all-time at 96.1 frames from Feb. 10-March 11, 2007, and has also struck out the side a staggering 101 times this year.

Abbott is currently listed among the NCAA Division I career top four in starts (192 - second), complete games (166 – second) and innings pitched (1,358.2 – third). She made history this past weekend against then-No. 1 Alabama with a first-inning punchout against freshman Charlotte Morgan during a 9-2 win to break former Texas hurler Cat Osterman's career strikeout record with K number 2,266. Abbott is the only pitcher in history to strike out 500 or more during all four years of her collegiate career and at 40-2 in 2007 has gone over 40 triumphs during each campaign of her time spent in the Orange & White.

A two-time Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-American and one of only 12 players in NCAA Division I history to register 300 hits, 200 runs scored and 100 stolen bases in her playing career, Schutzler picked up her third overall All-SEC selection and second straight first-team choice on Wednesday in Auburn, Ala. The Monterey, Calif., native's name is prominent among the current SEC league stats at fourth in the conference in batting average at .406, second in triples (5 - tied), fourth in RBI (49 – tied), fifth in on-base percentage (.473) and runs scored (46 - tied) and sixth in stolen bases with 33. The senior center fielder leads the UT record books in career hits (344), runs (231), stolen bases (114), total bases (463) and triples (20) while rating fourth overall in Lady Vol career batting average (.385) and on-base percentage (.447) and sixth in RBI (152).

Schutzler is also one of 20 finalists for the inaugural Senior CLASS trophy that is awarded based on a combination of leadership, community service and softball ability.

RHODES WORK: The SEC has released its annual "Community Service Team" for softball highlighting an athlete from each league school who gives back to her community through superior service efforts. Tennessee's representative on the prestigious squad is junior pitcher Megan Rhodes.

An in-state product from Nashville, Rhodes has set an exceptional example by utilizing her position as a Lady Vol student-athlete to give back to the local community. Among the projects the 5'7 pitcher has undertaken are the annual Tennessee "April Play Day" and the Teams and Toys Wrapping Party.

She has spent time helping to build homes with the Habitat for Humanity program, has participated in free softball clinics for Knoxville Youth Sports programs, regularly visits East Tennessee Children's Hospital and works with Lift Up America.

Rhodes also serves as a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Representative at UT and a Peer Mentor Representative. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, an honors organization focused on excellence in liberal arts and sciences.

On the field, Rhodes has been outstanding for the Lady Vols in 2007 with a 13-2 record, a 1.13 ERA and 170 strikeouts in just 105 innings of work. She has recorded victories from the circle this season over high-profile opponents such as No. 1 Alabama, No. 12 UCLA, Georgia and Auburn.

Easily her best game of the season occurred at the Frost Tournament in Chattanooga on March 2, as Rhodes struck out a career-high 19 Oakland (Michigan) batters while hurling a perfect game during a 7-0, Tennessee triumph. She has struck out more than 10 batters in a contest in seven of her 19 starts in 2007.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories