Sarah Bailey joined elite company on Saturday when Tennessee Softball retired her jersey.
Only one other softball player in Lady Vols history has retired a jersey – her former teammate Monica Abbott. Bailey, who UT fans knew as Sarah Fekete, has one of the “great stories in Tennessee athletics,” Tennessee coach Karen Weekly said.
“Being able to take my jersey off and hang it next to Monica Abbott is one of the most amazing accomplishments,” Bailey said. “I got a lot of texts from teammates I played with…and I think one of the biggest compliments I got was: I was proud to be your teammate. And that means a lot.”
From the start in 2002, Bailey entered freshman grade determined to be the best, no matter what. She began her career as a right-handed hitter. She ended up as a left-handed slapper, one of the best hitters in the country.
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“People have no idea the level of trust required and the hours of work she’s put into this transformation,” Weekly said. “She’s one of the most competitive young women Ralph and I have coached.”
In Bailey’s 280 games over four years as Lady Vol, she recorded 296 hits, 189 runs, and 85 stolen bases. She holds the third-highest career batting average (.398) and the eighth-highest career on-base percentage (.456).
Bailey, now the vice principal at Alcoa High School, was attending a sectional basketball game when she received a FaceTime from her former coaches breaking the news. She is in her fourth season as a softball coach for Alcoa, which made her jersey retirement even more meaningful. His players can see his example and know that “the sky is the limit,” Bailey said.
“I think gambling always pays you back, and it pays you with what you put into it,” Bailey said. “I’ve been so blessed to have the opportunity to wear orange, and I want to give that same opportunity to young women like me.”
During her junior season, Bailey became the second Lady Vol to earn National Fastpitch Coaches Association first-team All-America honors when she led the team with a .414 batting average and .467 OB% .
But that was just a prelude to her historic senior season in 2006, when she helped lead Tennessee to an SEC Tournament title and third-place finish in the College World Series. Bailey hit .500 that season to win the NCAA batting title. His 110 hits were an SEC single-season record, while also leading the league in on-base percentage (.553).
His 110 hits and .500 batting average are still Tennessee’s single-season program records.
Bailey continued her pro career, being selected 10th overall by the Philadelphia Force in the 2006 National Pro Fastpitch Draft. She also won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2006 World University Games in Taiwan.