KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee softball inked six newcomers, who will make their debut in the 2022 season, during the National Signing period this week.
The Lady Vols incoming class is ranked the 12th-best recruiting class in the nation by Extra Innings Softball and is headlined by Santa Clarita, Calif., native Grace Keene. Keene is 1-of-4 players from the group named to both the Extra Innings Softball Extra Elite 100 List and Softball America’s 2021 Top 100 Recruiting Rankings.
Keene is tied for 13th in the country among infielders and 16th overall. She is also listed 33rd on SA’s Top 100 chart. While playing for Saugus High School, she was named the 2019 Foothill League Player of the Year and recognized on the 2019 All-State First Team.
Two additional California natives are also headed to Rocky Top including middle infielder Lair Beautae (Riverside, Calif.) tied for 16th among infielders and 19th overall on EIS’s top 100 list, and Keene’s high school teammate, McKenna Gibson (Valencia, Calif.), whose play at the corners has made her a top-25 infielder and inside the top 30 overall nationally. Beautae and Gibson are ranked 55th and 76th on SA’s Top 100 list, respectively.
Beautae led John W. North to the California Interscholastic Federation state championship in 2018 to mark the first time in 10 seasons the program had earned a bid.
Gibson had a standout year for Saugus in 2019 when she was named first-team all-conference, All-Santa Clarita Valley, all-area and the offensive player of the year before tacking on the Top Club Nationals 18U title with Athletics Mercado club team.
The lone outfielder of the class, Katie Taylor (Newnan, Ga.) is tied as a top-ranked outfielder and is ranked 24th overall (EIS). She ranks 84th on Softball America’s Top 100 chart. Taylor led her East Coweta High School team to a 7A state title in 2020. Taylor was also inducted into the National Honor Society as a junior.
Also coming from the west coast, Seattle native Nicola Simpson will add depth to the Lady Vols pitching corps. Simpson was named a MaxPreps Sophomore All-American in 2019 and “Washington’s Top Ace” by Scorebook Live in 2020. She led her team to a state championship in 2019 and has thrown nine no-hitters and has held batters to a .105 OBA.
Rounding out the early signee class is in-state standout Olivia Underwood (Madisonville, Tenn.). Simpson was named the District 5AA Offensive Player of the Year and All County Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman, before earning District 5AA Defensive Player of the Year and Monroe County Co-MVP in 2019 as a sophomore.
Equally impressive in the classroom, the catcher/infielder is a member of the National Society of High School Scholars and a Washington Youth Tour Writing Competition winner. She was also recognized for her academic achievement by the Tennessee Softball Coaches Association in 2020.
“These six student-athletes represent one of the most well-rounded classes we’ve ever recruited to wear the Orange,” said co-head coach Karen Weekly. “Their abilities cover every position on the field, as we’ve added depth at pitcher, catcher, corners, middle infield and outfield. These talented players also possess a terrific blend of speed and power which will fit well within our offensive philosophy.
“Most important, they are high achievers in the classroom whose priorities align with our commitment to academics. Ralph and I look forward to coaching and developing these young women.”