#10 Tennessee Softball 2016 Preview

Tennessee Volunteers
Overall Rank: #10
Conference Rank: #5 SEC
Tennessee Logo
Tennessee earned its seventh trip in program history to the Women’s College World Series last season as the Lady Vols won 47 games and hit 100 homeruns as a team. Nine players return from the 2015 team and a highly touted recruiting class will put Tennessee in position to, once again, make a run to Oklahoma City by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around thanks to a prolific offense and veteran pitching staff.
2015: 47-17, 15-9
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Ralph and Karen Weekly
Field Players:
The loss of Annie Aldrete to Cal will hurt behind the plate for the Lady Vols as she was prolific at the plate, hitting15 homeruns and providing a steadying influence for the pitchers. Junior infielder/outfielder Megan Geer and Sophomore infielder Meghan Gregg will anchor a potent lineup heading into the 2016 season. Geer hit .306 with 14 homeruns, 51 runs batted in and stole 10 bases last season. Gregg hit .314 with 14 homeruns, 51 runs batted in and scored 45 runs while earning Freshman All-SEC honors.
Senior Rainey Gaffin was the most consistent pitcher despite only making 12 starts in 40 appearances last season for Tennessee. Gaffin was 17-4 with a 2.17 earned run average last season. The key for Gaffin heading into 2016 will be to continue to attack opposing hitters and make them put the ball in play. Senior Erin Gabriel was the primary starting pitcher last season for the Lady Vols and went 17-8 with a 3.00 earned run average, while striking out 158 batters in 140 innings of work. This 1-2 punch in the circle is going to keep Tennessee in every game as they go through the gauntlet of the Southeastern Conference schedule.
Who to Watch:
Junior outfielder Shaliyah Geathers took a big step forward as a sophomore in 2015 and asserted herself as a key contributor to the everyday lineup for the Lady Vols. Geathers hit .320 and displayed plenty of power, hitting four homeruns while driving in 28. Sophomore infielder Scarlet McSwain is going to be another critical player for Tennessee as McSwain hit ten homeruns last season as a freshman while hitting .294. If McSwain and Geathers continue to develop as hitters, then the offensive attack will not miss a beat in 2016.
Final Projection:
The schedule will be loaded with excellent competition prior to SEC play. A trip to Tempe to take part in the Kajikawa Classic will bring on games against Fresno State and host Arizona State.  Fast forward a couple of weeks to the Easton Bama Bash and the Lady Vols will take on Arizona and play Alabama in a non-conference matchup since neither team will play each other during SEC play. Oklahoma will also visit Knoxville to play Tennessee as part of the Tennessee Classic on April 23 to round out the non-conference slate. A trip to play Florida on the second weekend of conference play will be an important one confidence wise for the Lady Vols if they can get a win or two against the Gators. Trips to Georgia and Missouri will also be potential landmines for Tennessee with the biggest SEC home series taking place against Auburn starting on April 30. This team should be a top 16 national seed in the NCAA Tournament and be right in the mix for a top eight national seed. Wherever they end up, Tennessee will be dangerous to deal with in the postseason.
Projected Postseason:  NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Meghan Gregg, IF, 204
Hits: Meghan Gregg, IF,64
Home Runs: Megan Geer, IF/OF, 14
RBIs: Two with 51
Runs: Megan Geer, IF/OF, 54
Stolen Bases: Rainey Gaffin, P/UTIL, 11
Wins: Two with 17
Innings Pitched: Erin Gabriel, P, 140.0
Strikeouts: Erin Gabriel, P, 154
Saves: Rainey Gaffin, P/UTIL, 3
Madness 2016 Softball Recruit Rankings:
#2 Brooke Vines
#14 Aubrey Leach
#39 Brittany Edmondson
#46 Bria Bush
#48 Taylor Rowland
#54 Abby Lockman