KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee softball has risen to the top of the school’s athletic totem pole, establishing itself as the department’s most consistent winner and model program.
That’s why the return of the Lady Vols logo and brand, announced Thursday by athletic director John Currie, represents such a key time in the program’s history.
“When I heard the news I shouted it from the rooftops!” said former Tennessee pitcher Monica Abbott, who put the Lady Vols softball program on the map by becoming the most dominant pitcher in NCAA history during her UT career (2004-2007).
“The Lady Vols logo started with Pat Summitt and women’s basketball,” Abbott told SEC Country Thursday night, “but the impact and inspiration of it spanned across the university and the country, and especially in the Lady Vols softball program.”
No doubt, Tennessee softball co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly have made the Lady Vols perennial contenders in the television-friendly sport, leading their program to the Women’s College World Series seven of the past 13 years.
What Abbott did for the Lady Vols pitching heritage, rising senior Meghan Gregg is doing for Tennessee hitting.
Gregg, the SEC Player of the Year in 2017 and two-time Tennessee Female Athlete of the Year, recognized the significance of the Lady Vol brand’s return, as much as anyone.
“It’s special to me, having come to Tennessee as a Lady Vol my freshman year, and then going through these different (logo) transitions,” Gregg said. “Now, I’m finishing my senior year as a Lady Vol, and that is a really awesome feeling.”
Former UT athletic director Dave Hart, working under the direction of previous chancellor Jimmy Cheek, had stripped all women’s programs of the Lady Vols brand and light blue color — except women’s basketball — effective in 2015.
First-year Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport recognized the mistake shortly after she assumed her leadership position at Tennessee, and set to work with Currie to solve the problem after Currie took office on April 1.
Currie, who left assistant athletics administration duties at Tennessee to become Kansas State’s athletic director from 2009-2017, said he never stopped thinking of the softball program as the Lady Vols.
Indeed, at the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, official NCAA merchandise still carried the Lady Vols logo even after UT’s regrettable decision to try to eliminate the brand Summitt built.
“I felt like my freshman season the softball team represented the Lady Vols well, we went to the world series and wore the Lady Vols symbol with pride,” Gregg said. “I was really excited to hear John Currie make the announcement, and I think this is a really good momentum builder for us to have another really good year and go to the world series again.”
Tennessee softball fell painstakingly short of the trip to Oklahoma City in May when its pitching faltered, allowing Texas A&M to rally from 1-0 down in the best-of-three NCAA Super Regional in Knoxville and advance to the WCWS.
Karen Weekly, who referred to last season’s team as the hardest working Lady Vols softball team she and Ralph Weekly have coached since taking over the program in 2002, said the brand’s return will have an impact.
“While we embrace the Power T as the official logo of the university and athletic department, we are also extremely proud of our rich Lady Vol tradition and legacy,” said Karen Weekly. “It’s a legacy that has never left us, but this decision gives us the opportunity to celebrate that legacy in a more meaningful and visible way moving forward.”
— Raven Chavanne (@RavenChavanne) September 14, 2017
The light blue will return to the Tennessee softball uniforms, as Currie has given all of his coaches the freedom to work with Nike and use the color schemes of their choice.
Abbott, now based in Houston, most recently led her team to the National Pro Fastpitch title in April with one of the greatest performances in the sport’s history, striking out 25 batters in 14 innings while allowing only one run.
“You can follow softball for the next 30, 40, 50 years, and I don’t think you’ll see another performance equal to her performance here this week,” Houston coach Gerry Glasco told ESPNW. “The heart and the guts she showed, the tenacity on the mound in the heat, in the humidity, weather delays. It’s a phenomenal performance, and, I think, one of the greatest performances in the history of softball.”
Abbott helped elevate Tennessee softball with the same sort of dominance during her collegiate career, providing momentum needed to draw funding for Sherri Parker Lee Stadium and set the stage for the program’s continued success.
“I’m thrilled our logo will be back at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium,” Abbott said. “I think the Power T and the Lady Vols logo can bring all of our University of Tennessee athletes together and inspire the next generation.”
SO proud that now every female that wears Tennessee Orange in the future can share my slogan of “once a LADY VOL always a LADY VOL”
— Candace Parker (@Candace_Parker) September 15, 2017
— Shelby Burchell🌟 (@shelb028) September 15, 2017