Randy Smith: Lady Vols Softball Looks For 1st NCAA Crown

Thursday, April 17, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

When my friends Ralph and Karen Weekly were in town last month for the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame Banquet, they had just returned from a trip out west for a big pre-conference softball tournament. The tournament’s final round was rained out, and Tennessee returned home with a record of 14-1 and ranked number two in the country. As of today, Tennessee is 35-6, 12-4 in the SEC and currently ranked fourth in the polls. They should have no problem getting back to the NCAA Women’s World Series, but beating seven other teams to win the national title is a tall order.

Tennessee has been to the World Series six times under the former UTC co-head coaches. They had one of their finest seasons ever in 2013, finishing 52-12 and coming in second nationally behind champion Oklahoma. When you make the final eight, and then the final four portion of the national tournament, it’s mighty hard to win it all. Ralph Weekly told me he hasn’t been discouraged just yet. Former U.T. women’s basketball head coach Pat Summitt told Coach Weekly that she took a team to the NCAA tournament five times before Tennessee won the first of their eight championships. Prior to those first five NCAA appearances, the Lady Vols also showed up in the old NAIW tournament a total of six years as well. This could be the year the softball Lady Vols finally get over the hump and bring home the big trophy.

It’s been a long haul for the Weeklys. They met when Ralph was coaching softball at Pacific Lutheran on the west coast. Karen was a former All-American at Pacific Lutheran and the two have been coaching together since 1997 at UTC. In fact, Karen was the Lady Mocs head coach for one year while Ralph was away as an assistant coach with the U.S. Olympic Softball team. I still can’t imagine any other married couple I know who could work that well together for that long.

Tennessee was ranked number one in the pre-season national polls before the season started. Ralph took that particular honor well in stride. “It’s not where you start it’s where you finish,”  Weekly said. “I know a lot of people are saying that and I think we could be very good, but all that means is we have a lot of work to do.”

Working hard is nothing new for Ralph and Karen. When they took over at Tennessee in 2003, they inherited a program that was dormant. The Lady Vols were 24-35 the year before and immediately improved to 35-25-1 in their first season. After three more years, their hard work paid off. U.T. finished runner-up in the country in 2005, followed by back-to-back third place finishes nationally in 2006 and in 2007. In all, Tennessee has been to six NCAA College World Series in the last nine years. By the way, Ralph has a couple of national titles under his belt as his Pacific Lutheran teams won a pair of NAIA national crowns in the 1980s.

He still wants the big one however. He and Karen have come really close a couple of times, including last year. We all truly believe he will get it done and 2014 would be as good a time as any to do it.  After all, as Ralph said, “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”

-----

Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.

His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.

He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.

In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com


Biscuits One-Hit, Crush Chattanooga Saturday, 12-0

The Biscuits (13-9) brought their bats to work in a major way, thrashing the Chattanooga Lookouts (9-14) in a 12-0 rout on Saturday night at AT&T Field. The shutout was the Biscuits' first of the season, as starting pitcher Taylor Guerrieri (1-1) and reliever Buddy Borden combined to one-hit the hapless Lookouts after rain delayed the game's start by 22 minutes. Guerrieri ... (click for more)

UTC Softball Drops Two At UNCG

The Chattanooga Mocs softball team dropped a 9-8 back-and-forth contest and an 8-0 game to UNCG on Saturday in Greensboro, N.C. UTC is 27-24 and 6-8 in Southern Conference action. In the first game, the Spartans got on the board with one run during the first inning. With the first hit for Chattanooga, senior Sam Taylor singled through the left side in the top of the third. ... (click for more)

Truck Bursts Into Flames On I-75 Near Tunnel Hill; Traffic At Standstill For Hours

A truck burst into flames after wrecking with another vehicle on I-75 near Tunnel Hill on Saturday afternoon. There were injuries reported in the fiery accident in the southbound lanes. Traffic was at a standstill for several hours. Long lines of vehicles detoured onto Highway 41 into Ringgold. The wreck was just inside Catoosa County, Ga. (click for more)

Representative Jimmy Duncan Endorses Donald Trump For President

Representative John J. Duncan, Jr., one of the most senior Republicans in the House and the only Republican remaining in Congress who voted against the Iraq War today endorsed Donald Trump for president. Rep. Duncan said, “With only four percent of the world’s population, we buy 25 percent of the world’s goods. Every country wants into our markets. We have tremendous leverage ... (click for more)

Jill Levine Is An Educational Rock Star

No one has covered the Hamilton County Department of Education drama better than Roy Exum.  Thank you, Roy, but I take issue with your unnamed sources.  Professional jealousy and sour grape darts should not be anonymous.   HCDE is so dysfunctional, and there is good cause to place this public organization under a microscope, dissect it into pieces and discard all ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Settle It With A Vote

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which I consider a pretty good authority on what words really mean, defines “freedom” in this way:  “The quality or state of being free: such as, (a) the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; (b) liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; (c) independence -- the quality or state of being exempt ... (click for more)