With postseason play right around the corner, the Lady Vols softball team has high hopes of not only winning the SEC Tournament, but also making it to the College World Series.
While they are currently on a 19-game win streak and have a chance to break many program records by the time it is all said and done, they will have continue to bring the same energy on the field and stay motivated.
But motivation should not be a problem for the UT coaches and players any longer. The team gathered at the clubhouse of Sherri Parker Lee softball stadium Thursday afternoon to welcome a new member to the Lady Vol softball team and family: 8-year old Knoxville resident Averi Ramsey.
With the Tennessee softball team in association with Team Impact, they held a special draft for Ramsey who is battling leukemia she was diagnosed with in March 2012.
"We had been waiting for about a year for a girl to become available with Team Impact here in Knoxville," co-head coach Karen Weekly said. "We found out in the last couple months that there was a girl here and we were so excited when we knew that. It was a blessing for us to find out about Averi. We can't wait to continue to build this relationship with her."
Team Impact is an organization that's mission is to improve the quality of life for children that are facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses and to generate strong team-based support networks.
It goes without question that Averi tremendously enjoyed her draft day with the Lady Vols.
The energetic, fun-loving, adorable blonde-haired girl arrived with her family to the softball stadium at 5:30 p.m. and was in store for a surprise.
She entered the front doors to the clubhouse walking onto the famous orange carpet that was laid out and was led by her new teammates to the video room where they had a special video for her to watch.
After recapping how successful the Lady Vols' season has been so far, UT softball on-air talent Brian Rice appeared at the podium and announced that the team was missing one more piece to the puzzle in order to get to the College World Series. He then announced Averi as the number one draft pick and the room filled with celebration and her teammates waving their orange and white pom-poms.
Karen Weekly, along with her husband and co-head coach Ralph Weekly, then sealed the deal with their newest team member, whom they told could play shortstop, as they all three signed the papers making her signing with the team official.
Perhaps the greatest honor for the little warrior was when she was given the No. 7 softball jersey to wear and for it to be her new number. The number is a prominent one in UT softball history, as it is the program's only retired number that belongs to perhaps the greatest pitcher in softball history, Monica Abbott.
From there Averi was led hand in hand by junior Melissa Davin to her brand new locker, in which she found jerseys of her size and a brand new softball glove of her own that she carried around with her for most of the day.
It was fun and games from there on out as she and the rest of the team cut her commemorative draft day chocolate cake and had ice cream along with it. She couldn't sit for too long, though, as she took her teammates out to the garden after eating to play her favorite game of Barbie dolls.
While it was apparent that she looked up to her teammates, who are all much bigger than her, freshman pitcher Erin Gabriel and others also look up to her as an inspiration.
"For me to be injured for a year compared to what she has to go through at such a young age it puts things in perspective," Gabriel said who also gave a tour of the entire clubhouse and was beaten three times in pool by Averi on Tuesday during practice. "I know she is going to teach me more than I teach her."
The team looks forward to having Averi as a complete part of the Lady Vols softball program.
"She has full access to everything that we do," Gabriel said. "She is 100 percent part of the team. So she'll be at practices, pregame and postgame. Everything is hers, she has everything that we do."
She plans on being at this weekend's series home opener on Friday night at 7 p.m. against Arkansas, as the Lady Vols look to set a new program record for most consecutive wins (20). She also will throw out a first pitch at a game at some point this weekend.
Every time the team takes the field the rest of the season, they will be motivated to play their best for their newest teammate who wears the No. 7 jersey.
"The impact that Averi is going to have on our team is going to be tremendous," Karen Weekly said. "She is going to have a huge impact on our girls. It really helps you put things in perspective when you think you've had a tough day or you're concerned about with your performance on the softball field. You just think about your teammate, Averi."