Tennessee women’s sports soar in spring

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

Spring has definitely brought a bright orange glow to Lady Vols sports.

Basketball has added four excellent players from the transfer portal. Tennis is in the Elite Eight for the first time in 14 years. Softball earned its highest national seed ever. Rowing is sweeping meets and ranked No. 5 in the country. Golfer Bailey Davis will compete at the NCAA Championship. Relay teams are flying around the track. Swimming and diving posted its second-best national finish ever.

BASKETBALL: Coach Kim Caldwell signed three players from the ACC and one from the SEC in Alyssa Latham, a 6-1 sophomore forward from Syracuse; Lazaria “Zee” Spearman, a 6-4 forward from Miami; Samara Spencer, a 5-7 senior guard from Arkansas; and Ruby Whitehorn, a 5-11 guard from Clemson.

All four are suited for an up-tempo offensive system and persistent pressure defense throughout the game. As to whether or not that approach will work at the elite level of basketball, Caldwell delivered the perfect one-sentence answer at her introductory press conference: “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we could do it here.”

TENNIS: The Lady Vols ended No. 1 seed Oklahoma State’s season – and 29-match winning streak – to earn a spot in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2010. No. 16 seed Tennessee defeated Oklahoma State in Stillwater last weekend and will travel back to Greenwood Tennis Center on the Cowgirls’ campus to play No. 8 UCLA on Friday, May 17, for a spot in the Final Four.

Oklahoma State last lost May 6, 2023. It was the first time Tennessee had ever punched out a No. 1 NCAA seed in program history.

“We have been telling this team all semester, there is something special about you,” coach Alison Ojeda said. “It is not the tennis that is going to separate us. It is our heart and our desire to come together in big moments.”

Senior Esther Adeshina is one of four national finalists for the 2024 ITA Ann Lebedeff Leadership Award, as endowed by Billie Jean King, to honor a tennis player who checks all the boxes in college from excellence to leadership to community service.

“We love fighting for each other,” Adeshina said. “Last year I remember Alison saying that whenever we played top teams, we thought we had a chance, but we didn’t expect to win. All season we have expected to win these matches.”

SOFTBALL: Tennessee will start NCAA postseason as the No. 3 overall seed and will host the Knoxville Regional for the 19th consecutive season.

“I have invested a lot of years and a lot of my life and my time into Lady Vols softball,” said coach Karen Weekly, who was named the SEC Coach of the Year in 2024, the same award she earned in 2023, too. “But it’s not just me. It’s the coaching staff, the support staff, the administration, it’s everybody and ultimately it’s about the players.”

Tennessee’s pitching duo of All-SEC First Team member Payton Gottshall and SEC Pitcher of the Year Karlyn Pickens lead the Lady Vols into postseason. (UT Athletics)

The other three teams in Knoxville are Dayton, Virginia and Miami (Ohio). Tennessee and Dayton play Friday, May 17, at 2:30 p.m. with Virginia and Miami (Ohio) taking the field at 12 p.m. The double-elimination event will continue Saturday and Sunday with the winner moving to the Super Regional.

All the event information is available HERE.

Also, all 13 SEC softball teams (Vanderbilt doesn’t field one) earned NCAA tourney bids. National powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC next season. The SEC now defines women’s college softball.

ROWING: New coach Kim Cupini’s debut in 2024 has catapulted rowing into one of the best teams in the country. Tennessee started the season ranked No. 17, and it’s been all upriver – in a good way – since then.

The latest dominant performance came April 27 at the Lake Wheeler Invitational Cup in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Tennessee rowers hoist the Lake Wheeler Invitational Cup trophy. (UT Athletics)

“I’m proud of our full team’s outstanding performances,” Cupini said. “It was great to see all of our boats in the different categories go undefeated. We will keep pushing hard in training and working together as we gear up for the conference championships.”

That will come at the Big 12 Championships – the SEC doesn’t have rowing – on Sunday, May 19, in Sarasota, Florida.

GOLF: Davis finished tied for third place in the NCAA regional and will now compete as an individual at the NCAA Championship from May 17-22 in Carlsbad, California. The third-place finish was Davis’ best of the season and the second-best of her collegiate career after placing second at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship in September 2022.

TRACK: Lady Vol relay squads claimed two wins at the 2024 SEC Outdoor Championships in Gainesville, Florida, and broke two program records in the process.

Seniors Jacious Sears, Dennisha Page, DaJour Miles and Joella Lloyd posted a season-best time of 42.42 seconds in the  4×100-meter relay to best their own school record by a tenth of a second and claim the program’s first SEC title in the event since 1984.

Javonya Valcourt, Kyla Robinson-Hubbard, Miles and Brianna White won Tennessee’s first outdoor 4×400-meter SEC title since 1987 with a time of 3:24.44 and wiped a whopping three seconds off the program’s best time. The posted time also is a new collegiate lead for 2024 and fifth-best in the world this year.

Mona McSharry will represent Ireland in the breaststroke at the Paris Olympics. (UT Athletics)

SWIMMING AND DIVING: Tennessee’s work in the pool has been stellar, too, after a fourth-place finish at the 2024 NCAA Championships in Athens, Georgia. It also was the Lady Vols seventh consecutive top 10 national finish. In 2013, Tennessee finished third; the 1989 team also finished fourth.

The Lady Vols won in 2024 in clutch fashion with Brooklyn Douthwright, Mona McSharry, Josephine Fuller and Camille Spink finishing fifth in the 400 free relay in the final race of the meet to hold off Stanford and seize fourth place.

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications 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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