A Lady Vol legend returns; another retires

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

Lady Vol basketball legend Chamique Holdsclaw will be in town this week when Tennessee plays its last regular season game at home. Lady Vols softball pitcher Monica Abbott took to social media this week to break her own news – she is retiring from softball after a storied career that took her around the world.

Holdsclaw, the all-time leading scorer at Tennessee – men’s and women’s basketball – with 3,025 career points will be in Knoxville on Thursday, Feb. 23, as part of a benefit for the Lady Vols Boost (Her) Club, which has been written about here and can be joined here.

“Chamique is a player who doesn’t even need a last name for Tennessee fans to know who she is,” said Terri Holder, founder of the Lady Vols Boost (Her) Club. “She has traveled from New York for this event because she understands how important it is for the Lady Vol legacy to continue and how much it matters to the players to have an organization that promotes them and wants to help them succeed on and off the court.”

A special T-shirt will be available at the store event.

Holdsclaw will be at Orange Mountain Designs, located at 7240 Kingston Pike in The Gallery of Knoxville, from 4-5 p.m. She will sign autographs for an hour with a priority line for members of the Boost (Her) Club and then will leave for the UT campus. Tennessee plays South Carolina at 7 p.m. in the penultimate game of the regular season.

She also will be on the Thompson-Boling Arena concourse behind Section 129 where the Lady Vols Boost (Her) Club sets up one hour before tipoff to provide information and sign up new members.

A special Holdsclaw shirt was made that could be signed by her and sent via email, but the pre-order stock sold out in advance. The only way to get the shirt now is to be at the store.

With name, image and likeness (NIL) now available for college athletes, imagine how much money Holdsclaw could have made at Tennessee during her run to three consecutive national titles and every national award?

Monica Abbott also would have fallen into that category. The superstar pitcher electrified Lady Vols softball, so much so that Lee Stadium often is called the “house that Monica built.” Tennessee used to play at Tyson Park, which lacked covered dugouts, locker rooms and basic amenities. The players either changed clothes before they arrived or used a public restroom.

Monica Abbott fires a pitch. (Tennessee Athletics)

Abbott, who played at Tennessee from 2004-07, led the Lady Vols to three consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The new stadium opened in 2008, and recognition of Abbott’s No. 7 jersey, which was retired in 2013 – the first Lady Vol softball player to receive that honor – is permanently affixed in tribute.

Abbott departed Tennessee with 23 no-hitters, six perfect games, a 189-34 record, 0.79 ERA, 112 shutouts and 2,440 strikeouts. That last figure is still the NCAA strikeout record. Abbott then became a fixture in professional softball for 16 seasons, as well as a member of the U.S. national team, playing in two Olympics and international events across the globe with four World Champion titles.

“The day has come for me to step away from the circle and throwing 70+mph, rise balls,” Abbott said via social media with an accompanying video announcement. “For 20 years, I have lived the dream, playing softball at the highest levels and representing my country. But the day has come where I know that I can do more for the game I love off the field than on. It’s been the most incredible journey.

“To the fans, thank you for following, sharing, tagging, talking, watching and sharing the passion of the game. It was fun pitching for you, entertaining you, and I did my best to take you along this journey.”

So what’s the next step for Abbott? She indicated she would remain in the game but in a different capacity.

“I’m not sure what’s next for me, but I do know that it will be softball related,” Abbott said. “It’s just going to look a whole lot different.”

Monica Abbott fires a pitch. (USA Softball)

Abbott will likely be in Knoxville at some point this season as she is known to make trips back when she can fit it in her schedule.

The current softball team has started 6-1 and will play Feb. 24-26 at the USF Tournament in Tampa, Florida. Tennessee is No. 8 in the country and has outscored its opponents, 64-9. The Lady Vols will host the Tennessee Classic at Lee Stadium on March 3-4, the first time for fans to see the team play in Knoxville.

Back to basketball, Tennessee will have its hands full against South Carolina, which is the top-ranked team in the country and undefeated all season. The Lady Vols held senior day last Sunday – the full coverage of the win over Auburn is here – and will finish the season on the road at Kentucky on Sunday, Feb. 26. Regardless of the outcome in the next two games, Tennessee has clinched third place in the SEC.

Of course, any team prefers to take momentum into postseason, and the SEC tourney will be held March 1-5 in Greenville, South Carolina. With the No. 3 seed, Tennessee has earned a double bye and will debut on March 3.

Kellie Jolly, Pat Summitt and Chamique Holdsclaw with the championship hardware. (Tennessee Athletics)

Tennessee coach Kellie Harper will be reunited at the arena with her old teammate in Holdsclaw, who was in the wedding party when Harper married Jon Harper in 1999. The pair, with Harper known then as Kellie Jolly, won the late Pat Summitt’s fourth, fifth and sixth national championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

With the win on senior day, Tennessee also notched its 20th victory of the season, a number that seemed far away after the rough start in November and December against the country’s toughest schedule.

“Our team kept at it,” Harper said. “They kept coming into practice, and they kept believing and buying into what we were saying. They believed in their teammates, they knew we could win games – and I’ll tell you what, that schedule would have broken a lot of teams.

“They hung in there and gave themselves a chance to be a good basketball team and that’s on them. That is 100 percent on our team, and their belief and their competitiveness.”

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.

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