This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
While stars fill the spring sky as the Northern Hemisphere moves toward summer, stars also fill the recruitment sheets at the University of Tennessee. Last week, the No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2021 class – 5-star commit Terrence Lewis – chose to continue his career at Rocky Top shortly after No. 1 JUCO running back Tiyon Evans announced he would continue his career with the Vols. Meanwhile, 5-star guard Kaiya Wynn announced her commitment to play basketball for Kellie Harper as a Lady Vol. ESPN’s 2021 HoopGurlz ranks Wynn, an in-state commit from Nashville, as the No. 1 player in Tennessee.
The Lady Vol family had plenty to celebrate this weekend. Both head coach Kellie Harper and assistant coach Jon Harper celebrated birthdays (May 3rd and May 1st, respectively). The first-year coaching staff led Tennessee to a 21-10 (10-6 SEC) record last season, including a win against ranked Notre Dame and an 84-28 routing of Southeastern Conference rival Ole Miss.
While Vol Nation waits to see what these rising talents will do to make their marks, take a look back at memorable moments in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
May 4, 1999
One day after her 22nd birthday, Kellie Harper (née Jolly) heard her name called at the WNBA Draft in New York City. A three-time national champion, she earned her way to a spot on Cleveland’s roster in the fourth round. The 1999 Draft preceded the third season of the WNBA as teams selected players for competition starting one month later on June 10th. The No. 1 overall pick in that draft: Harper’s teammate, Chamique Holdsclaw.
The Washington Mystique selected Holdsclaw, who would become the first No. 1 overall draft pick to earn the Rookie of the Year title. At Tennessee, she helped lead the Lady Vols to three consecutive NCAA Championships and a 21-1 record in tournament play. She outscored and outrebounded every Vol in the record books, men and women. Accolades abounded as she picked up two Naismith College Player of the Year titles and three ESPY Awards as women’s college player of the year.
Holdsclaw started in the inaugural WNBA All-Star Game later that year before heading to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney where the women’s team took the gold medal. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville in 2018 following a career built on talent and tenacity.
“I recognized space and how to get my shot off. I could recognize mismatches. I’m 6-2, and I could shoot the outside shot, but I always wanted to take advantage of my skill level in the post, too,” Holdsclaw said at the induction ceremony. “Sometimes, I’ll pop in a tape and say, ‘I really could play.’”
Recently, both Holdsclaw and Harper dropped in on virtual classes with Tennessee students to offer support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The university hosted “VFL Class Crash” sessions each week when a notable alumna or alumnus would drop in on a class call:
May 10, 2006
Two more Lady Vols earned national accolades seven years later, this time for softball. The Amateur Softball Association announced Tennessee pitcher Monica Abbott and centerfielder Sarah Fekete earned their way to the top 10 finalists for the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award.
With the nod, Abbott picked up her third-consecutive finalist selection for the award, which recognizes a worthy NCAA Division I softball player for athletic achievement. Abbott broke SEC records for both strikeouts and victories that season. In March 2006, Abbott pitched two back-to-back no-hitters against No. 18 Auburn. Her six no-hitters and perfect game in 2006 led to a national-best 35 wins.
Meanwhile, teammate and senior Fekete led the nation in hitting with a .503 batting average. She earned 29 RBI in 59 games during the 2006 season. Her on-base percentage (.559) also led the league.
Unfortunately, neither Lady Vol received enough votes for the recognition, which eventually went to Texas pitcher Cat Osterman (who also won the award in 2003 and 2005). However, the next year, Monica Abbott picked up her fourth and final selection as a finalist – and the title. The four-time All-American received eight accolades her senior season, including both the USA Softball POY title and the Honda Award for the Top Collegiate Softball Player. She now has gold medals from three ISF Women’s World Championships, five World Cup of Softball competitions, and two from the Pan American Games to her credit.
May 8, 2010
Four years later at a different sports diamond, Cameron Harris, an assistant media relations director for Tennessee, had a field day with the lead of his recap of Tennessee baseball’s trip to Athens, Georgia:
“The University of Tennessee baseball team scored 13 runs on 12 hits, including four home runs, and four walks. And that was just in the third inning.”
The Georgia Bulldogs failed to bark, only howling after the Vols took to Foley Field to win 25-5 on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the Classic City. The Vols won each of three games in the weekend series, but Saturday remained special.
Tennessee tied the school single-game record for hits with 28 on the day and surpassed the school record for hits in a single inning with 12 (record of 11 previously set against Oakland on March 9, 2005). With 12 extra-base hits, Tennessee earned its most runs against an SEC opponent since defeating the Dawgs 28-10 in 1997. The Vols rounded the bases like a carousel, picking up 52 total and beating the previous program record of 47.
The visitors from Knoxville fell behind 2-0 heading into the third. Then, they hushed the puppies. Nineteen batters headed to the plate, scoring nine runs before the first out. In one half-inning, the Vols took a 13-2 lead. Cody Hawn hit a three-run homer before Blake Forsythe hit a home run of his own on the very next pitch.
“Obviously, we swung the bats pretty well today,” Tennessee head coach Todd Raleigh said. “…I think the turning point in the game today was when Hawn hit the home run. We kind of relaxed, got more aggressive, and it just took off from there.”
At the time, Tennessee held a record of 24-21 (8-13 SEC) while hapless Georgia stood at 13-30 (3-16 SEC). When the Bulldogs struck first, the Vols knew they needed to rally to avoid embarrassment on the road. After scoring 13 in the third, Tennessee brought home one in the fourth, three in the sixth, two in the eight, and sixth in the ninth inning. Georgia only scored three more runs: one in the sixth, one in the seventh, and one in the eighth inning.
The Vols won again in a closer match-up the next day, 14-11, to close out the series.