This Week in UT Sports History – July 27th-Aug. 2nd

    by -

    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    Major League Baseball and the WNBA returned last week with a full slate of games from Thursday to Sunday. With both seasons delayed and shortened after COVID-19 became a global pandemic, players, coaches, and fans alike stood anxious for first pitches and opening tip-offs. Mixed emotions ran high as many embraced the return of their favorite teams yet harbored concern for their health.

    Still, those connected to college athletics await season decisions affecting scores of student-athletes, trainers, coaches, and campus communities. The University of Tennessee anticipates the beginning of the fall semester on Aug. 19. However, some Southeastern Conference fall athletic competitions will not resume until Aug. 31 at the earliest.

    In the meantime, take a look back at Volunteer athletics in “This Week in UT Sports History.”

    July 29, 2001

    Before Tennessee’s Alison Ojeda took over as the seventh women’s tennis head coach for the university in 2016, the former All-American donned the orange and white as a player. Working to improve her game during the summer of 2001, Ojeda teamed up with fellow Lady Vol Vilmarie Castellvi to compete in USTA satellite competitions across the country. The pair picked up a doubles championship win in the USTA Fifth Third Bank Classic in Evansville, Indiana.

    After defeating SEC rivals Carolina Mayorga and Lauren Rookledge (Kentucky) in the quarterfinals, the duo edged past top-seeded Stephanie Mabry and Aneta Soukup (7-5, 6-4) to make the finals. The match marked their first USTA championship event. Taking on Anca Anastasiu and Lara Van Rooyen of South Africa, Castellvi and Ojeda earned a decisive victory (6-2, 6-3) to add yet another line to their impressive career resumes.

    Castellvi, originally from Puerto Rico, led the Lady Vols to a Final Four appearance during the 2001-02 season. She held a 44-8 singles record. By season’s end, the ITA ranked her No. 4, the highest ever for a Tennessee player to that point. She entered the 2002 fall season ranked No. 1 in the country. In 2003, she won the Honda Sports Award for the nation’s best female tennis player.

    Ojeda posted more than 100 victories in both singles and doubles during her playing career at Tennessee. During her junior year, a minor injury gave her time to think about her future in tennis. She realized she wanted to coach.

    “I have been planning to be a head coach since I was a junior in college,” Ojeda said upon her hire at Tennessee. “I had a small injury and talked to [head coach Mike Patrick] then. He knew I wanted to be a head coach at some point down the road. He was unbelievable. He gave the opportunity to coach some of our younger players on the court while I was healing. Every step I have taken from a coaching standpoint has been to help get me here.”

    When Patrick stepped down in 2016, he indicated Ojeda should be his successor. She had joined the program as an assistant coach the preceding June.

    “She’s fantastic,” Patrick said. “She’s the right person. She’s got all the juice I had 25 years ago.”

    In 2019, Ojeda earned the ITA Ohio Valley Region Head Coach of the Year title. Following the accolade, Tennessee Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer announced a contract extension through 2024.

    Ojeda’s 2017 and 2019 teams finished in the ITA Top 25 at 24th and 22nd, respectively.

    “The resurgence of Tennessee women’s tennis under Alison’s leadership is evident,” Fulmer said. “I admire her passion and have been impressed with her ability to relate to her players as well as recruits. I expect the program to continue to flourish with Alison as our head coach.”

    The 2020-21 season will mark her fifth as head coach on Rocky Top. She and women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper both hold the distinction of coaching at their alma mater.

    July 31, 2012

    Speaking of women’s basketball, Candace Parker, considered Tennessee royalty as a national champion and No. 1 WNBA draft pick, took the world stage in the land of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. Parker picked up two consecutive double-double performances to commence the London Olympic Games.

    In the 90-38 win against Angola, Parker earned a single-game Olympic record for blocks with four. She felt the expectation of U.S. Olympic Team coach Geno Auriemma (head coach at Tennessee archrival UConn) for her to exude confidence and intensity.

    “I thought it was a tremendous performance by Candace,” Auriemma said after the game. “We saw a little bit of everything that she’s capable of doing. There are things that Candace can do that no other player can do. Tonight was a perfect example of that. And it started right from the beginning of the game.”

    In her first double-double, Parker scored 11 points and pulled down 13 rebounds against Croatia. She capitalized on the momentum in the Group A preliminary round, earning 14 points and 12 rebounds in the second game.

    Feeling the pressure of leading the team as a prior gold medalist (Beijing 2008), Parker turned to Auriemma for guidance.

    “I think that’s my biggest thing is sometimes I get in my own head,” Parker said. “I think tonight he just gave me two things to do: just rebound and run the floor. We’re going to play defense, but I tried to focus on that, and my teammates did a good job of getting me the ball.”

    Just five years prior, Parker put up 30 points in a 70-64 win against Auriemma’s Connecticut team. She provided some oomph in the rivalry win with the sixth dunk of her career and 12 rebounds. After the game, Auriemma likened the two schools to the Red Sox and Yankees – a classic rivalry worthy of attention no matter when either team earned its last title.

    Barring pandemic changes, the Auriemma-led Huskies will come to Rocky Top on Jan. 21, 2021 for a match-up at Thompson-Boling Arena. They won last year’s rivalry renewal, 60-45.

    Here’s hoping for better, on and off the court, in 2021.

    Lexie Little
    Lexie Little is a journalist from Kingsport, Tennessee, who holds a Bachelor of Communication degree from the University of Tennessee with majors in both Journalism & Electronic Media and French & Francophone Studies. She's a contributor to RTI and writes the weekly column "The Week in UT Sports History." Lexie formerly worked as a feature writer for VIPSEEN Magazine and continues to freelance for various publications as she earns her master's degree from the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.