STARKVILLE, Miss. – Following a 2008 campaign that saw UT post its fifth consecutive 50-win season and advance to NCAA Regionals for the fifth consecutive time, the Tennessee Lady Vol softball team has been chosen No. 12 according to Tuesday’s release of the preseason ’09 USA Today /National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25 poll.
The Big Orange is joined in the rankings by four squads from the Southeastern Conference as 2008 Women’s College World Series participants Florida and Alabama represent the league at No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, while LSU sits at No. 19 and Georgia at No. 22.
Tennessee is currently slated to play eight members of the preseason top 25 during 18 regular-season contests that will include Florida, Alabama, Northwestern, Oklahoma, North Carolina, LSU, Washington and Georgia.
Co-Head Coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly prepare to christen the 2009 season with 10 returning letter winners, seven newcomers and seven players that reaped at least 23 starts during the ’08 campaign. Among those returning to bolster the Lady Vol program are NFCA All-South Region choices junior Tiffany Huff, senior Lillian Hammond and sophomore Ashton Ward. Also returning are junior Erinn Webb, sophomore Jen Lapicki and sophomore Kelly Grieve.
In the circle, Tennessee welcomes back not only Ward’s production, but also senior lefthander Danielle Pieroni , who tossed 19.1 frames in 2008 and worked 2.2 scoreless innings in an exhibition match-up against the U.S. Olympic Softball Team in Knoxville last April.
Arriving at Rocky Top for their initial action in the Orange and White are 2008 EA Sports National High School Player of the Year Jessica Spigner, 2008 National High School Coaches Association National Player of the Year Cat Hosfield , and 2008 EA Sports All-American Ashley Andrews. Also included among the stalwart group are high-profile signees and power-hitters Dee Dee Fryer and in-state product Shelby Burchell.
The Lady Vols will venture out to the state of Utah for the first time in program history to open the season over Feb. 5-7, participating in the BYU Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah. Tennessee will open the 2009 slate against Northern Colorado at 5 p.m. ET.