This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Sports fans across the country continue to assume the “Surrender Cobra” position as they watch the news every day. With uncertainty looming during the COVID-19 pandemic, no one truly knows when daily life might resume, much less sports. Thoughts and prayers undoubtedly remain with healthcare workers, medical professionals, and the host of other essential workers across the country. But one other thought lingers still: When will sports return?
As the world waits for an answer, take a look back at key moments in UT sports history after exercising self-care, washing your hands, and checking in on loved ones, because Vols help Vols.
April 4, 1981
With the 2020 Olympics postponed, track and field news remains in limbo. But in April 1981, the Vol track team made the papers. Tennessee “walloped” Clemson 109-45 at home in Knoxville on April 4th.
Standout sprinter Jeff Phillips won the 100- and 200-meter races as the Vols won 12 of 18 events. Phillips also ran as part of the 400-meter relay team, which set a track record of 39.41 at Tom Black track.
Football star Willie Gault also competed on that 400-meter relay team. Gault, a founding member of Wide Receiver U in the early era of the moniker, regularly returned kickoffs for major yardage in the 1980 season. His speed led to a 100-yard return for a touchdown against Pittsburgh, a 92-yard touchdown against Kentucky, and a 98-yard return for six against Vanderbilt. That speed and agility translated to track, where again, he proved himself as an all-star athlete, qualifying for the boycotted 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. He later set a world record on the 4 x 100 meter relay team at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
While the runners picked up points for the track team, discus thrower Larry Rosen set a school record of 193 feet, 1 inch. With the win, Tennessee improved to 2-1 in the outdoor season with a win against Houston and loss to UCLA already recorded.
Gault went on to play professional football for the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Raiders, winning Super Bowl XX with the Bears in 1986. A native of Griffin, Georgia, he was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame as part of the 2017 class.
March 30, 1997
Once again, the national champions stood clad in Big Orange. The Lady Vols defended their NCAA Women’s Tournament title, winning the second of three consecutive national championships on March 30, 1997 in Cincinnati, Ohio, against Old Dominion. Tennessee won 68-59 after a sound 80-66 defeat of Notre Dame in the Final Four.
But the road to the top wasn’t easy.
Ten regular season losses marred the path, with injuries wounding women’s basketball warriors along the way as Tennessee battled toward the top. The Lady Vols had knocked off No. 1 Connecticut in the regionals yet fell behind in the second half of the national title game. With a little more than seven minutes left in the game, Pat Summitt’s gritty squad had blown a 15-point lead, falling behind by two points. Summitt stood with her icy stare watching as her fifth national title in 11 years appeared it could be lost.
Then came the sophomores.
Point guard and current Lady Vol head coach Kellie Jolly (Harper) and tournament Most Outstanding Player Chamique Holdsclaw put on a show, leading Tennessee on a 12-2 run late in the game. Jolly earned 11 assists and picked up five steals as Holdsclaw dominated the boards for 24 total points and seven rebounds in the game.
“Kellie played tremendously,” Holdsclaw said. “She had incredible passes. I’m glad to have someone on our team like her.”
Jolly returned the compliment saying, “[Holdsclaw] is an easy player to play with. She’ll go get passes I throw her.”
Jolly lobbed a pass to Holdsclaw in heavy defensive traffic to clinch the win, capturing a 61-53 lead as the clock continued to wind down. Possession remained the name of the game from that point on, and the Lady Vols did their part to hold on to the ball.
Having finished fifth in the Southeastern Conference standings, no one stood more impressed with Tennessee than head coach Pat Summitt.
“I’d say probably 10 years from now, as you look back and people talk about Final Four teams and what stands out in your mind, this team will clearly stand out in mine,” Summitt said. “I told them when we were at Old Dominion, in a five-hour meeting the day before we played, that I was going to write a book, and I would definitely include this team as a big part.”
Summitt did, indeed, write a book: “Sum It Up.” And 10 years later, those Lady Vols were undoubtedly on her mind as her 2007 team also cut down the net at the national championship game.
Tennessee had lost to Old Dominion during the regular season on Jan. 7, 1997. The Lady Monarchs took that game by 11 points and outrebounded Tennessee by 16. But after the win against undefeated and No. 1-ranked rival Connecticut, the Lady Vols knew they could win it all by sharing the ball and never giving up.
The Lady Vols repeated as national champions again in 1998 in the perfect season, 39-0. Henceforth, the name Lady Vol has stood synonymous with women’s basketball.
March 31, 2014
When the National Pro Fastpitch Draft got underway at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville in 2014, Tennesseans had plenty to celebrate. The USSSA Pride drafted Lady Vol Madison Shipman at No. 2 overall, the second-highest NPF draft selection in Tennessee’s history. The Chicago Bandits had drafted Lindsay Schutzler at No. 1 overall in 2007.
Shipman, a senior, earned two-time All-American and All-SEC honors before her selection. At the time, her batting average held at .413 with a .731 slugging percentage. Earlier in the season, she had tied a Tennessee record with hits in 20-straight games as she picked up eight home runs, nine doubles, and 26 RBI. Pitchers feared her, walking her 22 times. She consistently rounded the bases, stealing eight and picking up 32 total runs before the ceremony.
The year prior, the Akron Racers selected pitcher Ivy Renfroe at No. 8 overall, and the Chicago Bandits took heavy hitter Raven Chavanne at No. 12. Tennessee had 12 top-15 selections between 2006 and 2014, at least one every year except 2010 and 2012.
The 6-foot-1 shortstop from Valencia, California, started all games at that position from 2012-2014 (188 consecutive games). As a freshman in 2011, she started all but four games (54/58) at short. She remains among the best batters in Tennessee history with 22 multi-hit games and 16 multi-RBI games as a senior.
Following her playing career, Madison Shipman joined Tennessee’s coaching staff as a volunteer assistant coach. She later moved to the broadcasting booth for the SEC Network.
Shipman’s younger sister, Ally, currently plays for the Lady Vols behind the plate. The sophomore catcher started all 23 games in 2020, tying Chelsea Seggern for a team-high .403 batting average. Injured last season,the younger Shipman battled her way back to earn 25 hits and 13 runs before the 2020 season ended prematurely because of COVID-19 precautions.
Though COVID-19 derailed plans for watching SEC sports this spring, we at Rocky Top Insider are grateful for all Vols doing their parts to flatten the curve and save lives, whether it be those on the couch watching ESPN rewind games or those fighting on the front lines in hospitals and testing centers across the country. Thanks for reading, and stay safe.