Here are three things from a Tennessee sporting Saturday that caught my eye. Each one held my attention long enough to be thought-provoking:
Someone to cheer for: Evan Russell said the sound of Tennessee’s fans helped him when he strode to the plate.
He thanked them in dramatic fashion.
The Vols’ left-fielder hit three homers against Vanderbilt. His eighth-inning grand slam capped an 8-4 comeback victory, which turned out to be UT’s lone victory of the series.
It was the second time this season that Russell had hit three homers in a game.
Thoughts: Thanks largely to Russell, a Saturday was special for a change around here.
SEC Network analyst Chris Burke, a former Vol, pointed out on Twitter afterward that Russell didn’t start Friday night. He began Saturday with a batting average under .200 but finished as the lone Vol in program history with two 3-homer games.
The overarching point: Keep competing. Something special might happen.
Recruiting a recruiter: The weekend began quietly on Saturday morning with Tennessee women’s basketball announcing the hire of assistant coach Samantha Williams. She joined coach Kellie Harper’s staff after serving two years as head coach at Eastern Kentucky.
In the university release announcing her hire, Williams said, “When you talk about women’s basketball, all roads lead through Knoxville, Tennessee.”
She later added: “Things have come full circle for me as I have always had a vision of being a Lady Vol ever since Pat Summitt called me in the ninth grade. Coming to Tennessee is truly a dream come true and I can’t wait to get to work.”
Thoughts: News of Williams’ impending hire was broached in this space on Friday. Men’s basketball adding two high-profile signees, along with veteran forward John Fulkerson’s return, got top billing, however.
Williams will give the Lady Vols a greater chance for the kind of headlines the Vols grabbed last week. She will serve as recruiting coordinator and has a track record for helping gather elite classes at such places as Louisville and Duke. She helped recruit a No. 1 ranked class at both schools.
Getting Williams to leave a full-time job and join her staff was a bold move by Harper. It’s the kind of aggressiveness that’s necessary for UT to move up within women’s basketball’s ranks.
Healthy respect: Along with Russell, Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin got an earful of Tennessee’s fans this weekend, enough to reach the following conclusion: “Let me just tell you COVID does not exist in Knoxville,” he said.
Tennessee’s crowds for the three-game weekend series were reported as follows: 2,390 (Friday), 2,263 (Saturday) and 2,450 (Sunday). The totals were roughly half the stadium’s capacity.
Vanderbilt has been more restrictive to date with its attendance. The Commodores’ three home games against Georgia last weekend all had crowds of less than 700.
“We just needed to do our part to play baseball,’ Corbin said. “They created a very good environment here for baseball and I credit them.”
Thoughts: Wait until Corbin visits Ole Miss next month. The Rebels topped 10,000 in attendance for two dates with Arkansas last weekend. There will be a lot more “environment” in Oxford, Miss.
The coach’s backhanded compliment notwithstanding, it’s worth remembering that the virus still exists everywhere. Large gatherings, even outdoors, can serve to spread it if you’re not careful. Wear a mask. You’ll still be heard.
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.