Tennessee coach Tony Vitello has turned the tide in Knoxville (UT photo)

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Surging Tennessee Has Created New, Exciting Culture

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ROUND ROCK, Texas — Contrary to popular belief in Knoxville, Tennessee third-year head coach Tony Vitello doesn’t consider himself a miracle worker.

Quite the opposite, actually.

Before Vitello arrived in Knoxville, the Volunteers had been mired in mediocrity for a decade. The Volunteers reached the College World Series in 2005. And that happened to be their last postseason appearance before finally returning to the NCAA tournament last spring.

The Volunteers tried their hand with a couple of options before Vitello arrived. First, it was former Western Carolina head coach Todd Raleigh, then it was heralded head coach Dave Serrano, who had taken a pair of West Coast teams — UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton — to the College World Series. Both coaches had their fair share of struggles during their time in Knoxville, with Serrano’s 101-110 mark in six seasons surprising everyone in college baseball.

Tennessee decided it needed to shake some things up. It needed to go younger and energetic, hoping to spring some life into a program and culture stuck near the bottom of the SEC.

Vitello, known for his hard-nosed approach and relentless recruiting style and philosophy, has been exactly what the doctor ordered for the Volunteers. Though the Vols scuffled in his first season, they took a big step forward last year by reaching the postseason and eclipsing the 40-win mark.

Now, even after losing some key cogs from last year’s club, having All-American lefthander Garrett Crochet on the shelf for the time being and getting limited production from electric outfielder and All-American Alerick Soularie, the Volunteers appear to be ready to take another step forward under Vitello after a sensational first two weekends.

UT made easy work of Western Illinois before heading to Round Rock this past weekend and, at least for three games, clearly looking like the best team in the field — that includes top-five Texas Tech.

Vitello and the Vols wouldn’t call it perfection. But it’s pretty dang close.

“It was definitely good in a lot of ways,” Vitello said about his trip to Texas. “It was a pretty cool environment and we had a lot of kids from Texas who got to see their families, which was nice. There seems to be some fans rallying around this group. Last year’s team had a big part of in restoring faith in the program and there certainly seems to be some momentum right now.

 

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