Dan Fleser: What We're Missing In UT Sports

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - by Dan Fleser

KNOXVILLE – Basketball comes to mind first when considering University of Tennessee athletics and what’s lost this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The sport’s postseason is unlike any other. Even if UT’s presence on both the men’s and women’s side was diminished this year, their participation would’ve drawn interest and created conversation. The fact that both sports combined to draw more fans this season than any other school in the United States (461,146 for 33 games) reflects the healthy level of interest.

But basketball isn’t all that UT fans will miss out on because of this unprecedented shutdown.

Here’s some other considerations:

Pitching shutout: We barely saw anything of Chattanooga-area pitchers Camden Sewell and Ashley Rogers.

Sewell, a sophomore right-hander for the Vols baseball team, made his first appearance in what turned out to be UT’s last game. He started against East Tennessee State on March 10 and threw three innings, allowing one hit and one run while striking out five. It was an encouraging outing for Sewell, who had been shut down during fall practice because of back problems.

Rogers never did take the mound for the Lady Vols softball team because of an unspecified injury. The sophomore right-hander, who was 21-7 last season with a 1.94 earned run average, was missed. The Lady Vols had started 14-9 and deployed four different pitchers. Two had ERAs of 14.54 and 19.09 respectively.

Sinking feeling: Although most UT teams are trending in the right direction, championships still have been scarce lately.

Therefore, Lady Vols swimming winning their first SEC championship this season was a signature achievement, not only for the program but also the university.

“We had a vision in our minds of being a championship team this year,” said Matt Kredich, Tennessee’s director of swimming and diving.

The scope of that vision included the NCAA Championships, which were canceled. No wonder then that Kredich spoke of the emotional fallout and how disorienting the sudden end has been.

No NCAA meet was especially unfortunate for someone like Erika Brown, who was named the SEC swimmer of the meet for a second consecutive meet. She won the 50 and 100 free and the 100 fly. It was the third consecutive year she accomplished the feat.

UT’s approach to teamwork transforms nicely with helping minimize the spread of the virus.

“Now the team is bigger than swimming and diving,” Kredich said. “It’s bigger than the University of Tennessee. The idea of serving something bigger than yourself is really a foundation of our team.”

Five’s a crowd: Seeing how six quarterbacks fit behind one center would have made for interesting viewing during UT’s spring football practices.

Five scholarship QBs and walkon Kasim Hill – a former starter at Maryland – were set to compete for some semblance of a pecking order. Although Jarrett Guarantano finished last season as a starter, his grip on the position wasn’t secure. He arguably was better as a reliever than a starter last season.

To be continued … whenever.

A good draw?: Since UT men’s basketball appeared to be bound for the NIT, it would’ve been interesting to see if the attendance numbers would’ve held up for a home game or two in that tournament.

Then again, maybe not. We’ll never know.

* * *

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 danfleser3@gmail.com

 


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