This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Summer months seem slow for collegiate athletics, but for some student-athletes, June and July provide opportunities to shine beyond the NCAA. Olympic trials, international competitions, and training combines allow college athletes to prove their prowess against veteran professionals. Though COVID-19 forced cancellation or postponement of many 2020 events, athletes continue to train – in whatever capacity possible – for future competition.
While the world navigates the summer of coronavirus — hopefully wearing masks to protect one another and allow for sports to return all the quicker — take a look back on Vol summers representing the orange and white on national and international stages in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
July 3, 2005
The USA Elite softball team, comprised of professional and collegiate athletes, traveled to Surrey, British Columbia, to compete in the Canada Cup in July 2005. Two weeks prior, the American Softball Association announced selections of the National and Elite teams, which would represent the U.S. in international play. Two Lady Vols found slots on the rosters. Pitcher Monica Abbott headlined the National team while Lindsay Schutzler found herself on the Elite team.
Schutzler, then just a sophomore at Tennessee, set a Southeastern Conference record for single-season hits with 107 during the 2005 campaign. The shortstop served as what Lady Vol co-head coaches Karen and Ralph Weekly called “the spark-plug” of the team, sensational in the field and at-bat.
She provided some oomph for the U.S. on the international stage, too.
In a no-hitter victory against China-Beijing, Schutzler went 2-of-3 at the plate with a run scored. After two scoreless innings, despite three runners in scoring position, Schutzler led off the third with a single and quickly advanced to second on a throwing error. When Arizona’s Mackenzie Vandergeest knocked an unassuming foul out to right, chaos manifested for China-Beijing’s stingy defense when rightfielder Dong Hui Lei missed a throw. The miscue allowed Schutzler and Arizona’s Nicole Giordano to score.
In the fifth, Schutzler ripped a single down the left field line. The Elite team loaded the bases, and Vandergeest hit a sac fly to bring in a run. However, a strikeout and fly out to center stranded the Lady Vol and Giordano on base.
Oddly enough, China-Beijing managed six baserunners in the no-hitter. Five walks and a hit batter allowed six to make it to first, but no runner advanced to second. The women of the USA Elite squad took the win, 4-0.
Schutzler later returned to Tennessee as director of softball operations before moving to Texas.
June 30, 2008
One could say she flew. Lady Vol swimmer Christine Magnuson, a 23-time All-American, earned her spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team by taking first in the 100m butterfly at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. The Illinois native raced to a 58.11 time after winning both the preliminaries and semifinals in under 58 seconds.
At the turn, Olympic medalist and former Kentucky Wildcat Rachel Komisarz set a pace that seemed like it might set a new world record. But fatigue set in, and Magnuson caught a second wind on the last 50 meters. Magnuson took the win ahead of Stanford’s Elaine Breeden in second and Komisarz in third.
“If you had asked me two years ago if I was going to the Olympics, I would have given you a very strange look,” Magnuson said. “It is amazing, thrilling. Now I can just really relax and have fun. I had a blast tonight. I don’t know how I’m going to top this one.”
Her semifinals time of 57.50 set an Olympic Trials meet record. At the time, it stood as the third-fastest in the world and seventh-fastest in swimming history. At Tennessee, she became a national champion in the 100m fly, an event in which she also held the SEC title. She earned the title of SEC Female Swimmer of the Year and Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year on her way to the Commissioner’s Trophy. She won four gold medals at the SEC Championships.
One of the most decorated swimmers in UT’s history, Magnuson took silver in the 100 m butterfly at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She won another silver medal on the 4x100m medley team.
June 30, 2012
Exactly four years later, former Vol Aries Merritt earned his way onto the 2012 Olympic team. Merritt took first in the 110m hurdles finals at the trials in Eugene, Oregon. His time of 12.93 seconds stood just one one-hundredth of a second behind the meet record. He had finished second in the semifinal round to advance.
Merritt joined former Vols Justin Gatlin, Tianna Madison, and DeeDee Trotter to round out the Vols qualifying for the U.S. Track & Field team of Olympians. Madison, who qualified for the 100m with a second place finish, missed her opportunity to also compete in the 200m in London. She finished in sixth place.
Merritt went on to win the gold in the 110m hurdles at the Olympic Games in London. He became the first hurdler to win the gold in the U.S. Indoor Championship, World Indoor Championship, U.S. Olympic Trials, and Olympic Games in the same year. Merritt’s personal best of 12.92 seconds beat reigning world champ Jason Richardson (by only 0.12 s) to take the gold. Later that year, he set a new world record of 12.80 seconds at the Belgacom Memorial Van Damme in Brussels, Belgium.
Earlier this year, the world-record holder and kidney transplant survivor said the 2021 Tokyo Olympics will be his last if he qualifies. He said he would also try to compete in 2022 for the world championships where he qualified for his first Olympic games, in Eugene, Oregon.
“But after that, I’m definitely going to retire,” he said. “That will be the end of my story as an athlete. … I’ll probably end up coaching because I love to coach and I love to give back to the sport that’s been so gracious to me. I’d love to dabble in that. Maybe some motivational speaking here and there.”
The hurdler overcame physical hurdles outside the arena in 2016 when he received a kidney from his sister LaToya. Diagnosed with a genetic kidney disease, he earned the world championships bronze in 2015. At the time, his kidney function registered at less than 20 percent.
The world will await his return and that of all Olympic athletes in 2021. The Olympic Games in Tokyo have been rescheduled for Friday, July 23 through Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021.