The No. 11 ranked Tennessee softball team hits the field for the first time in 2018 as it plays six games in four days at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona. Tennessee kicks off the season with a doubleheader against Boise State and No. 23 ranked Arizona State on Thursday afternoon.
The Volunteers will also take on Western Michigan, San Jose State, UC Davis and No. 16 Utah over the weekend. Tennessee is fresh off its 14th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament under head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly. The Lady Vols are also returning 17 players from last season, where they marked an impressive 48-12 record with a 16-7 record in SEC play.
The Weekly’s have led Tennessee to 15 straight seasons ranked inside the top 25 preseason polls. Tennessee is 13-3 in season-opening matchups and boast a 27-3 record in season-opening tournaments. In its previous appearances in the Kajikawa Classic, Tennessee holds a 14-6 record in the Grand Canyon State.
Among the retuning players for the Volunteers is Meghan Gregg, who was named to the USA Softball top 50 watch list for Collegiate Player of the Year.
“She knows that she can put the bat on the ball and hit pretty much any pitch she wants to hit,” Karen Weekly said on Monday. “It’s all about her having the plan that she wants to have and being confident in the plan. That’s what you see had really changed from her freshman year.”
The Lady Vols also return ace pitchers Matty Moss and Caylan Arnold, but they also add a pair of left-handed freshmen to the mix. Freshmen Gabby Sprang and Ashley Morgan add depth to the Tennessee pitching staff, which is something the Vols didn’t have much of last season. The only link missing on the team will be junior outfielder Brooke Vines, who recently had shoulder surgery after batting .385 in 2017.
The Lady Vols first game will take place against Boise State who finished with a 33-20 record in 2017 and made its first appearance in a postseason tournament ever. Tennessee has only ever played the Broncos one time, which resulted in a 15-1 throttling of Boise State in 2011.
The first ranked opponent on the Vols schedule will be Arizona State, who they have a 2-2 all-time record against. In their last meeting the Sun Devils notched a 5-4 victory in the Kajikawa Classic in. 2016. Arizona State returns seven starting players for the current season.
Tennessee’s third matchup comes against Western Michigan, who tallied 26-29 record last season and returns its top nine hitters. The Broncos recorded a program-high in runs scored and doubles in the 2017 season. The Lady Vols are 1-0 against Western Michigan, with their last matchup coming in 2012.
San Jose State finished with a solid 37-19 record last season and won its first conference championship in program history. The Spartans also brought in their biggest recruiting class ever, signing nine players during the offseason. Tennessee is 4-1 against San Jose State, with a win in its last matchup in 2016 by a score of 9-2.
The Lady Vols will take on UC Davis for the first time since 2016, when they beat the Aggies 3-0 in the Kajikawa Classic. UC Davis returns 13 players from last season, as it finished the 2017 season with a 22-32 record. Tennessee is undefeated against the Aggies in three games played.
Finally, the Volunteers will finish up with a ranked opponent in Utah, who finished last season with a 37-16 record. The Utes feature Alyssa Barerra, who was also named in the top 50 by USA Softball. Tennessee is 3-3 against Utah all-time, with the last game coming last season where they fell to the Utes 3-0.
Edited by Ben McKee
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics