Good Evening, Big Orange Fans!
I am writing this update during a (hopefully!) short flight delay as I connect in Charlotte on my way back from Jacksonville and my first SEC AD’s meeting. Over the last two days, Commissioner Sankey led us in robust discussions about lots of “routine” topics including, but certainly not limited to athletic and academic performance of our teams, fan experience, officiating and future football schedules.
It was great to be able to walk into the room as your new Tennessee athletics director and already have longtime relationships with most of the SEC staff and my fellow ADs, although, interestingly, five of our 14 institutions have a different AD than last year.
As members of the leading conference in intercollegiate athletics, we all recognize the honor of representing both our institutions and this league – and we understand the importance of close collaboration and collegiality to ensure the continued excellence and development of the Southeastern Conference. I’m looking forward to hearing that S-E-C chant at our football opener in Atlanta vs. Georgia Tech September 4th!
Before we move on to the rest of today’s updates, let’s flash back to two clutch, grand-slam moments from Tennessee baseball and softball this past weekend.
First, on Saturday at Vanderbilt, our baseball team was trailing 3-1 in the eighth inning until senior Jordan Rodgers delivered a go-ahead grand slam to put the Vols on top, 5-3. We tacked on four more runs in the ninth to bring the final score to 9-3 and even the series 1-1. I watched it live on the SEC Network with some good friends in Knoxville and was proud of the repeated TV crowd shots of the many loud and proud Big Orange fans supporting the Vols in Nashville.
Then on Sunday, it was fun to be among a sun-baked Sherri Parker Lee Stadium record crowd of 2,239. Tennessee faced a 1-0 deficit to No. 1-ranked Florida in the bottom of the fifth inning when senior outfielder Megan Geer blasted a grand slam that sent the stadium into a frenzy and put us on top for good as we went on to defeat the Gators, 5-1. Last weekend’s Florida softball series also marked the debut of our new section of ADA-compliant bleachers in right-centerfield—which enabled us to set a three-game series school record with a total attendance of 6,670—and I encourage fans to take advantage of that space during next week’s SEC Tournament (and a potential home NCAA Regional as well). Good luck to Tennessee softball in College Station this weekend as we faced the sixth-ranked Aggies.
CONGRATS TO COACH OJEDA AND OUR WOMEN’S TENNIS TEAM
First-year women’s tennis head coach and VFL Alison Ojeda and her team gathered last night for an NCAA Selection Show party and were excited to see Tennessee pop up on the screen as having earned a berth in the 2017 NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships. Led by All-SEC senior Brittany Lindl, Tennessee will open play Friday, May 12, against Big South Conference champion Winthrop at Duke. Congratulations to Coach Ojeda for leading our Tennessee women back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014!
From an individual standpoint, Lindl qualified to compete in the NCAA Women’s Singles Championships in Athens, Ga. On the men’s side, sophomore Timo Stodder earned a berth in the NCAA Singles Championship in Athens as well. Both 64-player draws will be announced May 23. This marks the national championships debut for both Brittany and Timo!
PAVON LEADS WOMEN’S GOLF TEAM TO 18th STRAIGHT NCAA BERTH
Achieving NCAA postseason play should never be taken for granted, but for 18 years—every season in her career at Tennessee—that’s exactly where women’s head golf coach Judi Pavon has led her squad! We wish our team the best of luck as it embarks to Athens, Ga., for the NCAA Regionals May 8-10.
National acclaim is mounting for our junior sprinter Christian Coleman. In case you missed it on Sportscenter Monday night, or on Twitter—where it elicited responses from personalities such as DeAngelo Hall, Lolo Jones and ESPN broadcaster Mark Jones—you should check out this video of Christian running a laser-timed 40-yard dash. I won’t give a spoiler with his time, but trust me… it’s worth watching. Just don’t blink. Hats off to Link Hudson and our talented VFL Films team for helping tell Christian’s story in a cool way.
Christian is a candidate to become Tennessee’s first winner of the prestigious Bowerman Award, which is presented by the USTFCCCA and has been described as the track & field equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. If you’d had the pleasure of meeting Christian, he’s an easy guy to cheer for. I’m proud of the way he carries himself and represents the University of Tennessee.
Our track & field teams will be in action all day this Saturday, hosting the Tennessee Challenge at Tom Black Track, before traveling to South Carolina for the SEC Championships May 11-13.
DECLARATION DAY AS HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS PICK UT
This past Monday, future UT freshmen experienced extraordinary collaboration between multiple campus units (admissions, alumni affairs and university communications) and athletics, as the Ray & Lucy Hand Digital Studio hosted a compelling and unique “Declaration Day,” live stream. It was very much like a National Signing Day show for students (not student-athletes) who have chosen to attend the University of Tennessee.
The first-of-its-kind Declaration Day video stream lasted for one hour and is archived and viewable online. That hour was filled with inspiring stories and also featured guest appearances by football players Joshua Dobbs, Trey Smith and men’s basketball player Kyle Alexander.
As Chancellor Davenport prepares to welcome her first class of new Tennessee Volunteers, we salute Associate Provost for Enrollment Management Kari Alldredge and staff for securing one of the deepest and most academically gifted classes in UT history!
MERCEDES-BENZ STADIUM UPDATE
With the 2017 football season approaching, a number of fans have asked us about the media reports of construction delays at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, site of our season-opener against Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game Monday night, Sept 4.
Gary Stokan, the president and CEO of Peach Bowl, Inc., which is based in Atlanta and is producing the game, checks in regularly and assures me that the stadium will absolutely be ready to host not just our game but and the Alabama-Florida State game two days prior, as well as an Atlanta Falcons exhibition game in late August. I can’t wait to join the Big Orange faithful to watch the Vols play in what projects to be one of the finest stadiums in the world. Stay tuned for more updates as warranted.
Our allotment includes 25,000 tickets. Tennessee season-ticket holders may visit AllVols.com to request tickets from May 16-31. Following that request period, any remaining tickets available from the UT allotment will go on sale to the public starting June 15.
BASEBALL AT HOME STARTING THURSDAY
Thursday night, I invite you to join me at Lindsey Nelson Stadium as our baseball Vols host 14th-ranked Arkansas in the first of a three-game series. After last night’s 9-2 win over ETSU, Coach Serrano’s team has now won four of its last five games, a stretch that began on Sunday, April 23, with a big win at 20th-ranked Texas A&M. Game times this week vs. the Razorbacks are 7 p.m. Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday. Thursday and Saturday’s games will be televised nationally on the SEC Network, with Friday’s game streamed on SEC Network+ via WatchESPN.
And Congratulations to junior pitcher Eric Freeman, who was selected this week as the male recipient of the 2016-17 Brad Davis SEC Community Service Leader of the Year award by a committee of faculty athletics representatives from around the league. The Kinesiology major will receive a $10,000 post-graduate scholarship, provided by the SEC.
ROWING CHAMPIONSHIPS RETURN TO OAK RIDGE
Please join me in wishing best of luck to Tennessee Rowing, as we host the Big 12 Championships on beautiful Melton Hill Lake May 13-14. You can click here to read more about the event and how Tennessee and fellow SEC school Alabama compete alongside five Big 12 teams as well as Old Dominion for the title and automatic qualifying spot in the NCAA Championships.
Finally, UT students and student-athletes are right in the middle of exams, so let’s all wish them the best of luck and salute our outstanding faculty who will spend their nights and weekend compiling final grades in time for graduation.
Thanks for the role you play in making Tennessee such a special place and for positively impacting the experiences of our incredible student-athletes. Remember I appreciate all the comments or ideas you’d like to share with me, which you can submit thought our “Hey John” portal here.