Tennessee (47-10) and Alabama (45-13) meet at Knoxville's Lee Stadium in a best-of-three series this weekend to determine which program makes a return trip to Oklahoma City for the Women's College World Series.
Game 1: Tonight, 7, ESPN2
Game 2: Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN 2 (if necessary)
KNOXVILLE — For Raven Chavanne, the nerves are a distant memory.
Four years and many, many big college softball stages ago, the Tennessee leadoff hitter and third baseman was a freshman about to make her super regional debut on the road at second-seeded and favored Michigan.
"I remember going to Michigan ... and just being like, 'Oh my gosh,'" Chavanne recalled Thursday, "but you learn and you go from that."
Eventually the weekly challenge of playing in a loaded Southeastern Conference and two College World Series appearances have removed any nerves for Chavanne and the senior core of Tennessee's softball team, which hosts SEC rival and defending national champion Alabama in a super regional in Knoxville with a third World Series trip in four years on the line for the Lady Volunteers.
Chavanne, pitcher Ivy Renfroe, outfielder Kat Dotson and second baseman, top power hitter and two-year U.S. national team member Lauren Gibson were freshmen when Tennessee pulled that upset in 2010.
The six-member class enters the weekend series with the 10th-seeded Crimson Tide with 197 wins and the 2011 SEC tournament title.
"I'm excited," said the All-American Chavanne. "To me there's no point in being nervous. I mean, sure, when the game starts, you get little bit of the butterflies, but it's the good kind.
"The upperclassmen, we've been here before plenty of times. We're just going in there giving it 100 percent with everything we've got, so [we're] not playing careful. We're going to be playing aggressive and playing every single game like it's our last."
Two of the top title contenders, Tennessee and Alabama opened the SEC schedule in a three-game set the Lady Vols won in Tuscaloosa in March. The teams have very similar offensive numbers, and each boasts a dominant pitching pair: Tennessee's Renfroe sisters, Ivy and Ellen, and Alabama's Jackie Traina and Leslie Jury. The two met in last season's World Series opener, a 5-3 Tide win.
Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly, who's led the Lady Vols with wife Karen for 12 seasons, can hardly tell the difference in the two teams from the March encounter and told the Lady Vols on Thursday to relax and focus on playing rather than the pressure of winning.
"You just can't tell what's going to happen," he said. "I know our team's ready, and I know our team's capable of winning. I know their team's ready, and I know their team's capable of winning.
"We've just got to get out there and put it on the line."
It's what Chavanne and the veteran Lady Vols have done plenty of times.
"After going to the World Series a couple of times and playing in this league, there's really no time to be nervous," she said, "because every single weekend feels like you're playing in the super regional when you're in the SEC."
Two part-time outfielders for the Lady Vols are former GPS standouts Tory Lewis and Whitney Hammond.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...