Lady Vols pitching ace Ashley Rogers will get back the season she lost due to injury

Rhiannon Potkey
For the News Sentinel

Ashley Rogers was determined not to redshirt. No matter how many games she missed during the 2020 softball season because of injury, the Tennessee pitcher was adamant about returning this season.

The coronavirus pandemic took the decision out of her hands.

Right before the Lady Vols were set to begin SEC play, the season was canceled because of the global health outbreak.

The NCAA granted eligibility relief to all spring sport athletes that had their season impacted by COVID-19, meaning Rogers essentially took a redshirt season to heal from an injury she has requested to keep undisclosed.

The former Meigs County standout missed all 23 games while rehabilitating. When the NCAA made the decision, she had just started throwing bullpen sessions with hopes of an eventual return.

"I came to the realization I just missed half the season and I was never going to get that back, but I was itching to play so bad,” Rogers said in her first interview since her injury. “I wanted to be out there for my team and for the seniors and give it all I could for them. But it really does put my mind at ease knowing I get those games back now.”

Lady Vols played without clear-cut ace

Rogers, a two-time Gatorade Tennessee State Player of the Year was expected to be the clear-cut ace of an inexperienced UT staff.

The right-hander was coming off a strong freshman college debut, having finished 21-7 with a 1.94 ERA, 209 strikeouts and 42 walks in 173.1 innings pitched.

But the injury surfaced during preseason practice, and Rogers was forced to watch and wait as the Lady Vols (14-9) endured a few rough patches.

"It was pretty hard. I am not going to lie,” Rogers said. “I really loved being out there competing, especially with my team. That's just who I am and always have been. It was definitely not easy just sitting on the sidelines watching."

Rogers initially thought she would be able to return sooner, until realizing the month of rest doctors prescribed didn’t mean she could return right away.

"In my head, it was 'OK. Four weeks. I will be out there in no time.' But it was four weeks before I could start doing stuff again,” Rogers said. “I had to build from that point, and during that process I had to be patient and not try to push it."

Andrew Rogers has been by his sister’s side throughout her softball career. He’s watched her take breaks before during the summer, but never for such a prolonged period of time in a season.

“She handled it very well. She didn’t pout about it or anything like that,” said Rogers, a manager for the Lady Vols softball team. “She is the type of person you have to make her do nothing because she will always push it because she wants to get back. But it was the best thing for her, medically speaking, to do absolutely nothing. She accepted that.”

Rogers did her best to remain an integral part of the pitching staff, and offer advice to newcomers Callie Turner, Samantha Bender and Anna Hazlewood.

"I was trying to help others as much as I could, especially since they were thrown into the fire and nobody had any experience at Tennessee,” Rogers said. “It's a whole different ball game at this level, and I just tried my best to help them out."

Throughout most games, Rogers charted pitches from the dugout and sat next to assistant coach Marty McDaniel to discuss certain scenarios that developed on the field.

"It really kept me sane being there with them all the time. I didn't feel set apart, which is great,” Rogers said. “They included me in everything. It was definitely a great learning process."

Tennessee’s Ashley Rogers (14) pitches against Mississippi State at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium on Sunday, April 14, 2019.

The road back to be '100 percent'

Since the season was canceled and classes were moved online, Rogers has been back home with her mom, brother and grandmother.

She lives on a large plot of land that includes a softball field and a basketball gym, which allows her to still work out while maintaining proper social distancing.

Rogers has been throwing to her brother multiple times a week to gradually build her strength and stamina.

“She is working on going back to the basics, which is not something you have time for during the season or even in the fall,” Andrew Rogers said. “I actually think the fact that she is getting to slow down and not have to throw in games, scrimmages or practices is really good for her. She can get back to the really small stuff.”

Rogers has stayed in contact with her team through weekly Zoom video conference meetings, texting and phone calls.

Although she wanted the chance to throw meaningful innings this season, Rogers understands the canceled season could be a blessing in disguise.

She wasn’t forced to play limited games at less than full strength, and didn’t have to sacrifice a year of eligibility.

"I am still not 100 percent, but I know I will be,” Rogers said. “I definitely feel so much better than I have in a long time."