Dan Fleser: Lady Vols Lose Only Ashley Rogers, But That's A Huge Loss

  • Tuesday, June 6, 2023
  • Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

Some of the words I have typed on my computer keyboard, the ones you now are reading on this website, don’t give us a full appreciation for Ashley Rogers, who played the final game of her Tennessee softball career on Monday night.

We can read the postgame comments and linger over the sentiment being expressed. But we can’t get to their true source. In Rogers’ case, it’s a wellspring of experience and emotion deep inside the graduate right-hander, who opened her heart after the Lady Vols season ended with a 5-1 loss to Florida State in the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series. Tennessee coach Karen Weekly, who shared a hug with Rogers afterward, was as close as anyone to that source and the significance of sharing from it. Therefore, she had a better understanding of what Rogers, as well as teammate Kiki Milloy, really were conveying.

“What I’m so proud of both of them, these are two young ladies who didn’t used to let anyone see them cry; they’re very strong,” Weekly said. “It was almost like they felt like, I can’t be vulnerable, that’s everybody else’s job.

“This year they both learned to be vulnerable. They were vulnerable with their teammates. They were vulnerable with each other. And because of that they were really just able to let their light shine and play free and give everything they possibly had.”

In the end, what Rogers gave could be quantified by the 166 pitches she threw during the past two days. They capped a season that was afforded her by the pandemic. Still, she chose to return and center fielder Milloy, who led the nation in home runs (25), sounded blessed that Rogers did.

“COVID sucked but it gave us another year together,” Milloy said. “I’m so grateful to have that.”

So was Tennessee (51-10). Rogers won a team-leading 20 games and, along with Milloy, earned All-America honors. She helped lead the Lady Vols to their most victories since 2013, which also was the last time Tennessee’s season reached the national semifinals.

Again, Weekly offered the best perspective on the 144 innings Rogers logged this season because the coach is more familiar with Rogers’ history of injury.

“It was a tough decision for her to come back this year because she’s had so many injuries in the last two years,” Weekly said. “She’s had so much pain and had to shut down a lot. It’s just been very frustrating for her because she’s such a competitor.”

Rogers spoke of a love for the game in relation to what the Lady Vols accomplished. And the self-described “little girl from Athens, Tennessee” addressed more specifically her affection for the university and what it meant to be its representative. She did it in the most vulnerable way possible to her.

“My father, who passed away when I was 16, was the biggest Tennessee fan,” she said. “He was laid to rest in a Tennessee orange shirt and has the Power T on his headstone. I think that says the most about what Tennessee has meant to me.”

As it stands, Rogers essentially will be the only player of note who won’t be returning next season. Milloy knows in her heart how big of a loss it will be.

“Getting to know her as a person, how much she cares and loves life, just loves the people around her,” she said. “She just carries herself with so much poise and so much confidence that it just rubs off on all of us. It’s going to be a big hole when she leaves this team.”

* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

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