This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
While temperatures cooled in East Tennessee, the Vols stayed hot on the recruiting trail as Jeremy Pruitt and company picked up three more 4-star recruits this weekend. But the primary reasons for celebration came as many Vols marked their graduation from the University of Tennessee, including some who chose professional sports careers before returning to complete their degrees. Baseball standouts Zach Osborne (2009-12) and Benito Santiago (2015-18), basketball star Steve Hamer (1992-96), and football national champion Peerless Price (1995-98) graduated virtually with more than 60 student athletes this weekend.
Lady Vol Basketball kept its 100% graduation rate for the program as Lou Brown and Kamera Harris (Master’s, College of Communication and Information) and Rennia Davis and Kasiyahna Kushkituah (Bachelor’s, Hospitality & Tourism Management) finished their degrees.
As a Mother’s Day surprise, professional basketball player Jordan Bone finished his degree from Tennessee while playing in the G-League and NBA for the Grand Rapids Drive and Detroit Pistons.
As Vol Nation salutes these new graduates, take a look back at other memorable moments for Tennessee alumni in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
May 13, 2006
Don’t mess with Monica Abbott.
After the Southeastern Conference snubbed the star pitcher for first-team All-SEC selection, Abbott set out to prove her prowess. On the mound, she led the No. 5 Lady Vols to the 2006 conference tournament title, beating No. 11 LSU 3-0.
LSU (51-12) had blanked Tennessee (53-9) the weekend prior to close out the regular season, winning 4-0. But Tiger pitcher Emily Turner failed to find another dominant streak with her change-up while Abbott’s “baffled” the Bayou Bengals.
“It’s very disappointing,” Turner said postgame. “It’s very disappointing to stand here and watch that team in orange take away the trophy…Tennessee is an amazing team and so is Abbott. If you don’t jump on her early, it’s very tough to beat her.”
That weekend in Athens, Georgia, Abbott and the Lady Vols faced the two first-team pitching selections. But the hurler in orange and white emerged the tournament MVP after beating No. 5 seed Florida, No. 1 seed Alabama, and No. 3 seed LSU. The win marked Tennessee’s first conference tournament title and the first for co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly.
LSU’s star duo of Turner and catcher Killian Roessner both earned All-Tournament honors, but Abbott won the day. Ralph Weekly said Abbott was “miffed” about missing the All-SEC first team, and that feeling set her on a mission to win.
“I definitely struggled in (conference) play this year, but I felt like I had something to prove,” Abbott said. “I wanted to show the other teams and coaches what I am.”
She threw a five-hit shutout to improve her season record to 37-7. She struck out six batters on the afternoon.
Offensively for the Lady Vols, Katherine Card hit a two-run single in the sixth inning to break a 0-0 tie. Turner hit one Vol batter on a wild pitch and gave up three runs on four singles in the inning to seal the win for Tennessee.
“There’s something about (Katherine) in big games,” Ralph Weekly said. “In last year’s regional, she hit a two-run homer, and in the World Series, she had the hit to beat Arizona. You don’t hear a whole lot about her until it’s a crucial game, and then she gets it done.”
Tennessee earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with the win.
May 16, 2006
Two days after the Lady Vols earned their way into the record books, Chairman of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Ron Johnson announced the selection of former Tennessee offensive guard Chip Kell to the College Football Hall of Fame. The lineman from Decatur, Georgia played for the Vols from 1968 to 1970 under head coaches Doug Dickey and Bill Battle.
The two-time consensus All-American played as part of a senior squad that never lost at home on Shields-Watkins Field (though a 17-17 tie against Georgia in 1968 soiled the record). During his time with the Vols, Tennessee only lost five games, earning the SEC title in 1969 and a No. 4 final ranking in 1970 with only one loss on the year. He moved from center in 1968 to guard in 1969.
“I was totally caught off guard when the Hall of Fame called,” Kell said. “It’s the most exciting thing that has ever happened in my athletic career. It’s nice when people remember you and appreciate what you did, the things you accomplished.”
Known for his powerful blocking, he won the Jacobs Memorial Award as the SEC’s best blocker twice. He earned recognition as the national lineman of the week after the Kentucky game in 1970 before playing in the 1971 Senior Bowl.
Kell earned All-SEC honors three times in addition to his All-American selections.
“Chip Kell was one of the most powerful athletes that I had ever coached at that time,” former UT Director of Athletics Doug Dickey said. “He was way ahead of his time in development by use of weight training, and he became a true leader on the football team.”
Kell played two seasons with the CFL Edmonton Eskimos in 1971 and 1972.
May 11, 2013
Tennessee’s Goodfriend Tennis Center served as the site for the second round of the NCAA Championships. The sixth-ranked home team desperately wanted to advance. All seemed lost as sophomore Brandon Fickey fell behind No. 23 Clemson’s Gerardo Meza on Court 3.
Taking the court for the first time since a shoulder injury on April 7th, Fickey needed to win the final set of the 6-hour match of intense battles with the Tigers. He had not won since Feb. 17.
Well, the Knoxville native won.
Rallying from behind, Fickey took the edge and broke Meza at love to finish the 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-4 win. The crowd, glued to their seats indoors following a rain delay, erupted.
“Being from Knoxville, it’s even better,” Fickey said. “(Associate head coach Chris Woodruff) told me to do it for Knoxville, and that’s what I did. I did it for the team, I did it for Knoxville.
“I did it for Tennessee.”
With the win, Tennessee advanced to the Round of 16 in Urbana, Illinois, to face Mississippi State. The Vols defeated their SEC foes by a score of 4-2. Their season then came to an end against Virginia in the quarterfinals, losing 4-0.