Softball opens season Friday

The No. 6 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team will christen the 2008 campaign on Friday at the inaugural Cathedral City Kickoff in California against Utah State at 8:30 p.m. ET. During its stay at the event, the Big Orange will face a difficult schedule that also includes UC-Davis, #20 Oregon, Cal Poly and No. 18 Oregon State.

Tennessee is 6-6 all-time in season openers and 4-2 under co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly. Last season at the Carolina Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C., the Big Orange hammered Coastal Carolina, 8-0 (5 innings), on the strength of a one-hitter by former Lady Vol hurler Monica Abbott. UT has won its last four lidlifters dating back to 2004.

Entering this weekend in Cathedral City, Tennessee boasts a 2-4 all-time mark against No. 18 Oregon State and a 1-1 record versus No. 20 Oregon. UT has triumphed, however, in 10 of its last 14 meetings against the Pac 10 Conference dating back to the 2005 campaign.

The last time the Big Orange faced off against OSU was in 2005 at the Palm Springs Classic. Held at the same venue as this weekend's event (Big League Dreams), Tennessee prevailed over the Beavers, 1-0. Tennessee no-hit Oregon by a 1-0 count at the 2006 Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas, in the last meeting against the Ducks. UT maintains a 1-0 mark against Cal Poly (10-0, 5 innings, on 2/17/06) and UC-Davis (7-0, 3/3/06) and will be battling Utah State for the first time in program history.

The Lady Vols welcome back 12 letterwinners and six position starters from last year's 63-8, record-setting run to Oklahoma City.

Headlining the returnees to Rocky Top are two-time Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-American senior third baseman Tonya Callahan (.385, 16 doubles, 11 HR's, 60 RBI in 2007), already UT's career home run leader (35).

Also back to contribute is 2007 first-team All-Southeastern Conference and NFCA All-South Region senior catcher Shannon Doepking. The Acton, Calif., native hit .278 with eight doubles, six HRs and 28 RBI last season to go along with five game-winning RBI.

Tiffany Huff, a returning SEC All-Freshman choice, posted one of the finest rookie seasons in Lady Vol history after recording a .339 mark with 11 doubles, six HRs and 58 RBI. In fact, her RBI total was the most for a Big Orange rookie since Carrie Swinford knocked in 62 back in 1996, the season before Tennessee joined the rugged SEC.

Also returning are senior second baseman Kenora Posey (.272, 29 stolen bases) and junior first-team ESPN the Magazine Academic All-American Lillian Hammond (.414, .469 on-base percentage, 14 stolen bases).

With the departure of four-time NFCA All-American hurler Abbott, experienced senior pitcher Megan Rhodes (13-3, 1.50 ERA, 186 Ks in 2007; 44-11 with 493 K's in her career) will get her chance to serve as UT's ace in the circle in 2008. Junior Danielle Pieroni and freshman Ashton Ward (Charlotte, N.C.), both former prep pitching phenoms, will be counted on to provide support.

Fresh off a third consecutive trip to the annual Women's College World Series and a national runner-up finish, Tennessee begins the new campaign rated sixth in the country according to the preseason USA Today/NFCA ranking. For the Lady Vols, the listing marks 32 straight weeks as a member of the nation's top 10 and 60 consecutive weeks among the top 25 of the weekly coaches poll

Live stats won't be available from this weekend's softball event due to facility limitations, but periodic voicemail updates will be provided on the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6).

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