By Rhiannon Potkey
Madison Shipman pulled into the parking lot at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium, just like she’s done countless times over the last eight years.
Only this time Shipman wasn’t coming as a player or a coach. She was arriving as a member of the media, and the new role required some navigational help.
“I actually had to ask someone at the gate to direct me where the media is supposed to go. I wasn’t exactly sure where that was since I had always gone through the clubhouse,” Shipman said. “I totally forgot about the clear bag rule too. I had everything basically shoved in my bag and I was really hoping they would let me in with that.”
Shipman’s bag got the thumbs up, as did her broadcasting. The former Lady Vol All-American shortstop made her debut as an analyst last Friday for SEC Network+ during Tennessee’s opening two games at the Tennessee Invitational.
“I was actually really pleased with how I did. Of course, I was a little nervous in the first game. But I think by the end I got comfortable,” Shipman said. “I definitely had a lot more fun doing it than I originally anticipated. It gave me a taste of the softball life I haven’t been able to have for the past couple months.”
One of the most decorated players in program history, Shipman batted .417 with 18 home runs, 16 doubles and 54 RBIs as a senior in 2014, winning the Honda and Senior CLASS awards for softball.
She joined the Lady Vols coaching staff as a volunteer assistant coach once her college playing career ended. Having stepped aside from coaching this season, Shipman was working in real estate in West Knoxville when she was contacted about joining the long line of former Tennessee athletes in sports broadcasting.
Meg Aronowitz, the ESPN & SEC Network Coordinating Producer for softball, had been impressed with Shipman’s knowledge of the game dating back to when Shipman was still a player at Tennessee.
Aronowitz engaged in a good-nature recruiting battle for Shipman with Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association convention in 2014.
“I asked Karen for Madison’s phone number because I wanted to reach out to her since she had graduated and see if she was at all interested in broadcasting,” Aronowitz said. “Karen basically said, ‘Uh. No. She is going to be a volunteer assistant coach for me, so no you don’t get to talk to her.’ Of course, it was in a very loving and joking way.”
During a visit to the Tennessee softball facility this summer, Karen and Ralph Weekly mentioned to Aronowitz that Shipman was leaving her coaching position and Aronowitz should contact her about broadcasting.
Aronowitz called Shipman in November to inquire about her interest, and brought her to the SEC Network studio in Charlotte for an audition in January.
“She came in and crushed it,” Aronowitz said. “She was awesome. She was fantastic, to the point where the studio guys came in and said to me, ‘OK. We are good.'”
Along with calling several Tennessee home games for SEC Network+, including this weekend’s SEC opening-series against Missouri, Shipman will be appearing on SEC Now every Thursday and Friday beginning March 15.
She will be at the SEC tournament in Missouri for SEC Now, and be in studio during regional, super regional and Women’s College World Series coverage for the SEC Network.
“Broadcasting was something I always had an interest in for sure. But right when I finished playing, coaching was really my main goal at the time,” Shipman said. “Things just kind of worked out for a reason this year. I ended up not coaching and it opened up this door and this opportunity to be able to commentate and be able to be a part of the ESPN crew. Thankfully, I found something I really enjoy where I can still kind of get my coaching fix as well.”
Shipman is expected to bring a distinctive voice to the SEC Network softball coverage that will complement the existing talent.
“I love the fact that she’s been a volunteer coach for about three seasons and she has that mindset and that mentality,” Aronowitz said. “What we don’t have enough of in all sports is former coaches with a recent perspective on the game, and Madison learned from the best in Ralph and Karen.”
The Weekly’s gave Shipman high recommendations once she decided to leave the program.
“I am super appreciative to Ralph and Karen trying to help me in my career so far,” said Shipman, whose younger sister, Ally, will join the Lady Vols as a freshman next season. “That is what makes them so special as co-head coaches. It’s a unique dynamic and makes that program very special to play for.”
Before calling her first game last week, Shipman welcomed a special visitor into the booth. India Chiles replaced Shipman as Tennessee’s volunteer assistant coach this season. Although they didn’t play together at UT, they respected each other’s careers from afar.
“She came up and told me good luck. She said not that I would need it, but she would give it to me anyway,” Shipman said. “That was really special. She was a player I grew up watching.”
Shipman realizes there are no guarantees as she explores a new career path. But the challenge is part of what excites her most.
“It just kind of depends on how I perform, so it’s par for the course for me,” she said. “I have a little bit of a competitive nature, so hopefully I perform well and I can turn it into something full time. I am going to put all of my effort into trying to become the best commentator I can be.”
Aronowitz has complete faith in her long-coveted recruit. She envisions Shipman’s broadcasting career following a similar path as her playing career.
“She is going to be our next softball superstar,” Aronowitz said. “I have no doubt.”
This article originally appeared on UTSports.