With the No. 1 team in the country coming to town over the weekend there is a different sort of buzz around the Lady Vols' softball complex.
"It's great to finally start SEC play and who better to start the conference season against than the defending national champions," senior Kat Dotson said.
The Lady Vols (19-3) return home to host Alabama after reeling off five straight wins during the Buccaneer Invitational last weekend.
"We were able to get back on track and worked some things out at the plate after losing some games we felt like we should have won," Lauren Gibson said. "We feel good about where we're at heading into this series."
No. 8 Tennessee and Alabama (22-1) are no strangers. The two met for a double-header last season in which the two split, and they met once more during last season's College World Series where the Crimson Tide defeated the Lady Vols 5-3 in the tournament's first game.
"We played each other well last year," co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "We are familiar with one another and off the field we are two program's that like one another, but when we step onto the diamond it's all business."
The two teams' stat lines are eerily similar. The Lady Vols and Crimson Tide's team batting averages are just .004 points apart (.346 and .342 respectively), and team ERAs are a minuscule 0.10 different (in favor of Tennessee).
Pitcher Ellen Renfroe believes it will come down to whoever can outwork their opponent.
"When the stat lines are as close as they are and we are as equally matched it's going to come down to who can grind it out," she said. "Whoever gets the big hit when they need it, whoever gets the big strikeout when the need it and whoever makes those big plays will come out on top."
Gibson and her fellow seniors are taking it upon themselves to step up their leadership and lead by example in order to show underclassmen how to handle a high profile matchup.
"The coaches took us seniors aside and just talked to us and want us to really have a presence this weekend," she said. "We know we need to step up and be the ones to get it done. I think we're ready."
With five-straight wins coming into this weekend, the Lady Vols are feeling confident in their play.
"We're confident right now," Ellen Renfroe said. "We're playing Tennessee softball and I think we'll be fine."
Though the Lady Vols are in the top 10, Weekly likes his team being in an underdog role.
"They are the No. 1 team in the country and the defending national champions," he said. "I believe our team plays its best against the best competition and I like that we will be in that underdog role this weekend."
Weekly believes that the games will come down to one thing: pitching.
"I say this a lot," he started, "they call this game fast pitch, not fast hit or fast run. There are some great pitchers on both sides and some great hitters on both sides and essentially you're going to see some of the best players in the country on the field tomorrow night."
Friday's game is slated for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch with Saturday and Sunday starting at 2:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m., respectively. All three games are sold out.