KNOXVILLE – In the midst of a basketball season that has been more confounding than compelling on campus, two other University of Tennessee sports deserve some attention.
UT’s women’s swimming and diving team won its first SEC Championship in program history, holding off Florida by a margin of 29 points Saturday night at Auburn’s James E. Martin Aquatics Center.
Tennessee baseball, meanwhile, has won its first seven games of the season, including a sweep of three games last weekend at the Round Rock (Texas) Classic. The Vols beat then-No. 1 Texas Tech 6-2 on Friday night and concluded with a 7-2 victory over then-No. 25 Stanford on Sunday.
The Lady Vols’ championship was years in the making, said Matt Kredich, the director of Tennessee’s swimming and diving program.
“For 15 years, I and everyone else who has been a part of this program has been striving for this and envisioning this,” he said. “The main thing I feel is a tremendous appreciation for everybody that’s helped along the way. We built a culture over years and years that could win a championship and our staff has worked tirelessly. I am really humbled and really grateful for everyone that’s been a part of this. It’s been a lot of people.”
Senior swimmer Erika Brown stands out in this crowd. She’s a Tennessee athlete who fans should know more about. For a second consecutive year, she was named swimmer of the meet after scoring the most points of any competitor. She won the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and the 100 fly. She set an American record in the 100 fly (49.38 seconds) in the finals.
“I never want to take a swim like that for granted,” associate head coach Ashley Jahn said. “That was an incredible performance that has been built on her consistency and her drive to get better.”
For Vols baseball, the run-up to their start traces back to last season, when they returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years. Before preseason practice, outfielder Evan Russell thought that the Vols’ absence from preseason rankings was “pretty much a stab in the back.”
Coach Tony Vitello sensed that the players wanted to carry forward the momentum generating during last season but cautioned, “I think that pertains more to the attitude and expectations than the actual results.”
Well, now they have some actual results, winning their way into several polls with a high of No. 19.
The Vols placed five players on the all-tournament team at the Round Rock event. Outfielder Zach Daniels, who had four hits, drove in three runs and scored three, was named the most valuable player.
Tennessee’s relievers allowed just two runs (one earned) in 20 innings while striking out 26. Jackson Leath and Drew Gilbert came out of the bullpen to earn victories. Sean Hunley and Redmond Walsh earned saves.
The Vols have achieved their auspicious start without an inning pitched by ace Garrett Crochet, who’s been sidelined by general soreness.
“They’re definitely a (NCAA) regional team,” Stanford coach David Esquer said, “and could be beyond that.
They were able to take a punch or two early (against Stanford) and hang in there. They look very athletic. They look very competitive. … They’re definitely a quality team.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org