This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI contributor Lexie Little
The 2019 Tennessee Men’s tennis team etched its record in UT history this weekend with a 4-2 victory against North Carolina State at the Goodfriend Tennis Center in Knoxville. The No. 14 Vols advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals for the first time since 2014 and the 19th time in program history.
As the tennis team continues its historic run, take a look back at other historic moments in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
May 6, 1982
Long before the Dallas Cowboys welcomed him to the field, ESPN welcomed him to the booth, and Dallas welcomed him back, the world welcomed Jason Witten to its citizenry on May 6, 1982.
The 6-foot-6 tight end played for the Volunteers from 2000 to 2002. The Cowboys drafted Witten in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft, and he remained there for 15 seasons before retiring. As a professional player, he caught 1,152 passes for 12,448 yards, 68 of which resulted in touchdowns. He retired from professional football May 3, 2018, going on to join ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” as an analyst.
As a Tennessee Vol, he helped the men in Orange and White reach the 2001 SEC Championship game and the Florida Citrus Bowl, which the Vols won 45-17 against Michigan. He caught the game-winning touchdown in the 2002 Arkansas game, which went into six overtimes, to end the gridiron battle by a score of 41-38. Witten set UT tight end single-season records for catches with 39 and receiving yards with 493.
“Jason Witten is the epitome of a team player,” Tennessee Athletic Director and Witten’s former coach Phillip Fulmer said last year. “He is a guy that could do it all at the tight end position as a receiver or blocker. He was a great leader both on the field and in the locker room, and he was the rock in the Cowboys organization.”
Witten, 37 this week, hopes to be a rock for the Cowboys yet again, announcing he would return to football in late February 2019. The Dallas Cowboys official website featured comments from Witten’s statement:
“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten said. “This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship.”
May 11, 2002
This year’s No. 20 women’s tennis team earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament yet again, beating Furman 4-0 in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday to advance to the second round. In 2002, the Lady Volunteers chalked up a 4-0 win against Alabama in the NCAA Regional Final to advance to their sixth consecutive round of 16.
Current Tennessee head coach Alison Ojeda, then a Vol senior, fought to advance, taking to her home court for the final time as a player. She earned her 100th career singles victory 6-2, 6-1, to clinch the third and final singles win needed to advance. She also earned her 99th doubles victory with partner Kim Gates in an 8-4 victory against Bama’s Selia Mathew and Jenny Ketchum.
Ojeda, imprinted in the record books as a Tennessee tennis great, began her tenure as the seventh women’s tennis head coach in 2016.
“It’s been my dream job since I played here,” she said upon assuming her role. “I want to make sure we start focusing on winning some championships. We are in an extremely tough conference, and I am honored to be a part of the SEC.”
Her accolades as a player contributed to the hire, and she went on to lead the Lady Vols to their first NCAA semifinal appearance in 2002, finishing at No. 6 in the team rankings on the season. She ranks eighth all-time at Tennessee in singles with 102 wins and doubles with 105.
Ojeda remains a “Vol for Life.”
“In 1998, I was in Pat Summitt’s locker room and a recruit asked her why she should come to Tennessee,” she said in 2016. “Pat’s eyes got huge and she said, `Why wouldn’t you come to Tennessee? This is the greatest place in the country. The only reason you wouldn’t want to come here is if you didn’t want to be the best.’ From that moment on, I have absolutely lived and breathed Tennessee.”
May 8, 2014
Many fans flock to Knoxville to watch Tennessee athletes every year, but some away match-ups prove too far for some to travel. Distance, however, does not stop the Vols from taking national – and international – stages to prove their prowess.
On May 8, 2014, Vol graduate student and soccer player Hannah Wilkinson traveled to Osaka, Japan, as a member of the No. 20 New Zealand women’s national team. Japan, then ranked No. 3, won the friendly match 2-1. Wilkinson had started for the Football Ferns in four matches in the 2014 Cyprus Cup that March, scoring goals against the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland.
Wilkinson was no stranger to the international scene. She made appearances as a substitute in all three group matches for New Zealand in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She later joined the Lady Vols five games into the 2012 season following the London Olympics, in which she appeared in three of four matches. Despite her delayed start, she led the team in shots (48), goals (eight), and match-winners (four).
The Whangarei, New Zealand, native earned her way into the record books, finishing second in career goals with 33, third in scoring with 85 points, third in Tennessee game-winning goals with 11, and eighth in assists with 19.
Wilkinson, a striker, joined the Swedish club Vittsjö GIK in 2017 after ending her time at Tennessee and competing at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, again for New Zealand.