For most teams, Tennessee’s consistently winning record year-in-year-out and regular NCAA Tournament appearances would be enough to keep their fan base happy but with no National Championships to put in the display case, there have been some rumblings about whether or not it’s time for a coaching change?
The 2021 season was not as successful as most thought it could be with Tennessee going 42-15 overall but only 12-11 in SEC play. Along with an unexpected quick exit from the NCAA Knoxville Regional that they hosted.
In an attempt to shake things up and get that holy grail of being a National Champion’s Team the decision was made to move co-head coach Ralph Weekly to the position of team consultant and let his wife Karen take full control of the head coaching reins.
Chris Malveaux was also brought in this season as an assistant/hitting coach to help improve Tennessee’s recent lackluster team hitting average. Malveaux, known as one of the top hitting coaches in college softball, has spent the last several years (2019-21) at Missouri where he was able to steadily improve that team’s batting averages.
The team has lost several starters from last year’s team. The biggest surprise was the transfer of star starting catcher Ally Shipman who decided to play for fellow SEC powerhouse Alabama. Shipman has a .331 career batting average, with thirteen home runs and a .577 slugging percentage in her college career. Along with a .992 career fielding percentage. Starting pitcher Callie Turner also decided to join SEC team, The Arkansas Razorbacks. Turner has a career record of 18-10 with 33 starts and an ERA of 2.50.
Tennessee did pick up several transfer players of their own including Texas Tech transfer Erin Edmoundson. Edmoundson is 54-32 with an ERA of 3.07. The left-hander made 130 appearances over the last four seasons, including 579.2 innings pitched, 35 complete games, 14 shutouts, five saves, and has totaled 517 strikeouts. Tennessee also picked up pitcher Ryleigh White who transferred from Texas. White went 5-1 last season. The ace of the staff though will be returning senior Ashley Rogers. Last season Rogers went 26-10 with a 1.32 ERA along with 296 strikeouts in her 217.1 innings pitched for Tennessee.
Other notable transfer players picked up for this season include Oklahoma transfer infielder Zaida Puni. Puni appeared in 15 games for the Sooners, hitting .357 (5-for-14) with three doubles, one home run, six runs scored, and six RBIs during her rookie season. Graduate transfer catcher Kelcy Leach has also joined the Lady Vol program after finishing up her bachelor’s degree in management at Texas Tech. Leach is the younger sister of former Lady Vol All-American Aubrey Leach. Leach played in 157 games with 139 starts for the Red Raiders over her four seasons playing for them.
Tennessee also has several returning key players that should offer a good foundation of stability for the season including outfielder Amanda Ayala who offers a big bat hitting for a .368 average with 9 home runs and 32 RBI’s along with 11 stolen bases. Ivy Davis had 16 home runs and 47 RBI’s. Outfielder Kiki Milloy had a .360 batting average with 36 RBI’s and Ashley Morgan with a .379 average with 6 home runs and 30 RBI’s.
Tennessee always likes to play their freshmen and this year they have 10 freshmen on the roster to possibly work into the starting lineup.
Could this be Tennessee’s year to finally win a National Championship? My gut feeling is no but with the addition of Malveaux to pump up the run production and Ashley Rogers in the pitching circle I do see them making another trip to the NCAA playoffs and who knows what might happen with a few lucky breaks once there.