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David Cobb | Chattanooga Times Free Press | February 23, 2018

Tennessee building bonds, friendships during early road trips

DI Softball: Greatest Players | High Five

KNOXVILLE -- It's an old policy on Tennessee softball road trips, but it's new to the program's freshmen.

When the No. 11 Lady Volunteers are on bus rides or at team dinners -- there are plenty of both early in the season -- cellphones are prohibited.

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"I think at first they're a little culture shocked by not having that phone all the time," junior second baseman Aubrey Leach said. "But you get used to it."

The reasoning behind the restrictions on mobile devices is simple. Co-head coach Karen Weekly believes the early season road trips, such as this week's foray to the Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., provide off-field opportunities for teammates to build trust.

Early returns for the 2018 team are trending positive. Leach and sophomore pitcher Caylan Arnold both talked this week about the strong bond and chemistry of the Lady Vols, who beat BYU 13-1 and Bethune-Cookman 7-1 on Thursday to improve to 12-1.

"We really enjoy playing together," Leach said. "We've had some ups and downs. Everyone is going to make mistakes every once in a while, but as a cohesive unit we are together, and I really enjoy that part of the game."

The Lady Vols will face their stiffest challenge to date this season when they play No. 5 Oregon on Saturday. Weekly noted several areas of potential improvement for the team. The pitchers are issuing too many walks and the fifth through eight spots in the lineup have been inconsistent, she said.

But it's just February for a team with hopes of playing through the Women's College World Series in June, and the current gauntlet of cross-country trips are for more than just honing in on potential areas for on-field improvement.

MORE: Pat Summitt, Lady Vols legaacy draw pitcher Gabby Sprang to Tennessee

"There's a lot of time to talk, get to know each other and build relationships," Weekly said. "I think that's a big part of why we do what we do. We also want them to be prepared for adversity. You usually hit adversity at some point in time when you're on the road, whether it's a plane delay, weather, a hostile stadium or something like that.

"We need to learn to play through those things and stay within ourselves and in control, because you never know what postseason is going to bring."

Weekly said she thinks the players understand the reason for the cellphone restrictions and come to appreciate the idea after they get used to it.

"It definitely forces us to interact with each other," Arnold said. "Not that we wouldn't want to anyway."

This article is written by David Cobb from Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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