The Lady Vols softball team did everything but win the national title. Now that the dust has settled from last week's national championship series, perhaps we can put this year in perspective. First and foremost they represented the University of Tennessee in a way that all the Big Orange nation can be proud. They lost to a very good and resilient Arizona team that had to come through the loser's bracket to win over Tennessee. The Lady Vols had the national championship in their grasp several times in the second game but couldn't execute a bunt to push that go ahead run in before the game went to extra innings. Even then, it took an exceptional slide for Arizona to score the eventual winning run that night.

Monica Abbott was great throughout the series and did all she could to hold Arizona down the first two games, but it just wasn't to be this year. Tennessee advanced further than any SEC team ever has in the championship series. Even though they lose several key players to graduation, they return a core group that will again challenge for the SEC title. I can guarantee you one thing; next year's team will be able to lay down a bunt in their sleep, count on it. Still, this year's team had the national championship all so close and just let it slip away.

The University of Tennessee lost a legend in the person of Ray Mears this week. Ray set the benchmark for men's basketball while he was the coach from 1962-1977. If Bruce Pearl is the current heart of Tennessee basketball, Ray will forever be known as the SOUL of Tennessee basketball. The man that brought the Ernie and Bernie show to Knoxville and posted a .713 winning percentage at Tennessee died this past Monday.

It was Ray that came up with the phrase "Big Orange Country." He will be forever visualized, by those old enough to remember him, on the sidelines wearing his orange blazer and checkered pants.

It was great to see Coach Mears back at Thompson-Boling this past season and be acknowledged by 20,000-plus when he came to see Bernard King have his jersey retired. You have to think that he appreciated the times this past year that Coach Pearl chose to wear the orange blazer in certain rivalry games. I, for one,will always think of Coach Mears when I see Coach Pearl don that orange blazer in the future. Rest in peace, Coach. There is no doubt some angels are learning Rocky Top as we say goodbye to this UT legend.

Another UT legend made the news this week when he revealed that he was returning to the Knoxville area to make his home there once again. Johnny Majors has sold his home in Pittsburgh and will soon be relocated back in his beloved Tennessee. We in Crossville get to see Coach Majors each summer when he brings his invitational golf tournament to Lake Tansi.

Now we will most likely see him at future Vol sporting events throughout the year. Welcome home, Coach Majors.

As I close this week, I would like to mention that 14-year-old Kendall Martindale, who is turning heads at the Tennessee Women's Amateur Championship, is the granddaughter of Lake Tansi residents Agnes and Gene Garrett. We wish her well as she was off to a great start tied for low honors with several collegiate players in last Monday's qualifying round and winning her first match play event by shutting out her opponent in just 12 holes. Looks like this young lady is the real deal.

Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears periodically.

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