This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Vols plan to once again fill Neyland Stadium, only this time without players battling on the gridiron. The University of Tennessee announced last week that spring commencement ceremonies will be held inside the venue with limited capacity, allowing graduates and families to celebrate the milestone safely during the COVID-19 pandemic this May.
The university traditionally holds ceremonies indoors at Thompson-Boling Arena and Alumni Memorial Building, but health guidelines currently require the move outside to the pleasure and surprise of many graduating football fans.
While fans must wait another 188 days until football time in Tennessee, spring seasons continue. Tennessee volleyball and soccer resumed play last month following conference decisions to extend play across both semesters because of the pandemic. Tennessee baseball and softball seasons now stand well underway. And the men’s and women’s teams prepare for the postseason.
The No. 20/21 Lady Vols held Senior Day at Thompson-Boling Arena yesterday against Auburn in Thompson-Boling Arena for the regular-season finale. Tennessee honored senior stars Rennia Davis, Kasiyahna Kushkituah and Jaiden McCoy before the game, which the Lady Vols won, 88-54. The men’s team dropped a game to Auburn on the Plains, 77-72, on Saturday. The Vols will face Florida this Sunday in Knoxville at noon.
As these teams continue to fill the pages of Tennessee record books, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at this week in UT sports history:
March 6, 1994
One year to the day after the Vols pulled out double-header wins against Ohio in Knoxville, Tennessee faced the Bobcats again. The first game in 1993 went to a 10th inning, and Tennessee pulled out a narrow 7-6 victory. When the teams returned to the field, it wasn’t even close. The Volunteers kept the bats hot in a 12-0 shutout. The 1994 narrative followed the latter precedent as the Vols posted a 15-0 win.
The season had commenced with three consecutive losses in a series against Miami (Florida) University one month prior, setting a low bar for expectations. However, the series against Ohio came as part of a 16-game win streak. The Vols also generated a 15-game win streak later in the season following a handful of losses amid series sweeps like that against Alabama in April.
With two All-Americans on the team, including one consensus All-American, Tennessee ultimately finished the 1994 season with a 52-14 overall record (24-5 SEC). Both Todd Helton and R.A. Dickey earned All-American honors, the latter a consensus selection. Dickey also earned the Baseball America Freshman of the Year Award for his dominant pitching. Both players went on to successful professional careers following first round MLB Draft selections in 1995 and 1996.
The Vols won both the SEC title and the conference tournament title that season before a 3-2 run in the NCAA Tournament. The building season set the foundation for 1995 when the Vols reached the College World Series (fourth place).
March 5, 1994
The same week baseball continued a hot streak, the Lady Vols continued to dominate the court under head coach Pat Summitt leading into the 1994 SEC Women’s Tournament. Tennessee held a record of 26-1 overall by March 4 and ranked No. 1 in the nation.
The Associated Press issued a slight warning to fans ahead of Tennessee’s conference tournament play set to begin March 5. In 1993, the No. 1 Lady Vols held a record of 27-1 overall (11-0 SEC) before Georgia beat them in the second round of the tournament. The Lady Bulldogs had erased a 10-point second-half Tennessee lead to send head coach Pat Summitt’s squad home after only one game.
Summitt led her teams to a combined 525 victories, nine SEC championships and three national championships before the March 5 tournament start in 1994. No team in the conference had beaten her squads in more than two years during regular season play.
Tennessee prepared to face Georgia again. Larry Taft, a sports writer for The Tennesseean, noted that Lady Vol Dana Johnson said memories of the first game best forgotten gave the team an eerie feeling.
“I think last year went through our minds, maybe unconsciously,” Johnson said. “That’s why Pat told us after the game that we had a scared look on our faces. We were hoping a repeat of last year wouldn’t happen.”
A repeat did not happen. The Lady Vols beat Georgia, 86-72, to advance in the tournament. However, the win failed to come easy.
Tennessee led 48-29 in the second half before the Lady Bulldogs closed the 17-point gap, coming within 10 points. A 7-0 run stalled the Lady Vols’ hopes. Then, Tiffany Woosley sank a 3-point shot to regain a more comfortable lead. She impressed her head coach.
“I compliment Tiffany in that she stepped up and handled the pressure when she was not getting as much help from her perimeter game as we’d have liked,” Summitt said. “We did not have five people step up and want the basketball when the pressure was on.”
Summitt remained unimpressed with her team’s offensive effort, noting little aggression, despite Woosley’s 20-point game. Johnson scored 17 points in the game. Summitt noted free throw shooting as the team’s saving grace in the second half.
That season, the Lady Vols won the tournament title in addition to their regular season crown. They exited the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet Sixteen with a 31-2 overall record (11-0 SEC).
Two seasons later, freshman Kellie Jolly (Harper) joined the squad. She helped her team to the first for three consecutive national championships. She now leads Tennessee into the SEC Tournament for the first time. The tournament tips off this Wednesday in Greenville, South Carolina.