The Tennessee Lady Vols softball team practiced at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium this week.

The team, ranked No. 9 preseason by ESPN, worked on pitching, as well as working in some of its incoming freshman, such as Cheyanne Tarango.

“I think we had an average practice defensively but a really good practice on the mound,” co-head coach Ralph Weekly said.

Weekly said the Lady Vols needed work in certain areas before their opener, but overall was pleased with how well the players were coming along and can tell they’re ready for the season to begin.

“This time of year, when you’re getting ready to play, you tend to be tired of playing each other,” Weekly said. “They’re excited and locked on.”

Tarango showed she could be a batting threat as well this season after this past Saturday. Playing with the U.S. softball junior team in Anaheim Hills, Calif., the native’s go-ahead grand slam helped the U.S. beat Japan, 4-1 in the ISF World Championship.

The freshman pitcher is working into the Lady Vols pitching rotation with returnees Hosfield and the Renfroe sisters, Ellen and Ivy, who combined for all 49 pitching wins last season for the Big Orange and are showing they’re still going strong.

“The pitchers were really strong today and I was really pleased,” Weekly said. “The first part of practice was pitchers and I thought (Ivy and Ellen Renfroe, Cheyanne Tarango and Cat Hosfield) did really well.”

UT’s only departure, Kelley Grieve, leaves center field wide open for young players to win a starting spot as teammates look on.

“Everybody in the outfield is doing great,” second baseman Lauren Gibson said. “They’re working hard and just trying to win a spot.”

Gibson just finished helping the U.S. softball team pull off big wins in the summer and fall, helping America to the World Cup of Softball title and the Pan American Games title.

The recently announced 2012 Team USA Senior national team member said she was excited about the Lady Vols’ upcoming season, but that she wanted to work more on the team’s chemistry and communication.

“It’s all about learning, about playing with each other,” Gibson said.

Playing alongside Gibson is Raven Chavanne, who finished fifth in the nation in batting average last season at .455. The standout junior was selected to try out for one of the last five spots on the 2012 senior national team in the spring.

Chavanne’s and Gibson’s (.420) batting averages led the Lady Vols, while UT led the nation in the same category (.348).

Weekly needs just 35 more wins to reach 500 career victories with UT; his race to the milestone begins with UC-Santa Barbara in Tempe, Ariz., on Feb. 9, and he can tell the Lady Vols are ready to get the season going.

When asked if he was ready, Weekly smiled and said, “I’m ready; I’m as ready as I can be. I’d like us to be perfect, but I realize this is not the time to be perfect; we need to just keep working.

“But I’m proud of them and they’re working hard and putting forth a great effort so that’s all I can ask.”