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It's Rocky Top for Rocky's Pannell
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HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL

It's Rocky Top for Rocky's Pannell

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Rock Island vs United Township at Class 4A softball regional final

Rock Island junior Taylor Pannell has verbally committed to continue her softball career at Tennessee.

Taylor Pannell has found a tradition-rich college home.

Ranked as the fifth-best softball prospect in the nation in the Class of 2022, the junior infielder from Rock Island High School has made a verbal commitment to continue her career at the University of Tennessee.

"There’s so much tradition there and everything, the academics, the athletics, the softball program and coaches, it just feels like the right fit," Pannell said. "It’s one of those traditionally strong programs and I’m excited to get the chance to become part of it."

Pannell announced on social media late Monday that she had given Lady Vols co-coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly her commitment to join the Southeastern Conference program.

She visited the Tennessee campus last fall, attending a camp and a home football game there during a weekend which left a lasting impression.

"The atmosphere was incredible," Pannell said. "I think I knew then where I wanted to be and I’m looking forward to the opportunity that I’ll have there. It’s a great program."

Pannell initially made a verbal commitment to Auburn as an eighth-grader prior to an NCAA rule change but re-opened her recruitment last fall.

She was named in April by Extra Inning Softball as the fifth-best sophomore in the nation, climbing one spot from a year ago in its Extra Elite Top 100 player rankings for the 2022 senior class.

Pannell earned that ranking in part because of her play during the summer and fall with the Tennessee Mojo, one of the nation’s premier travel programs.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, she was able to compete in tournaments on a fairly regular basis beginning in late June and will join the Mojo for fall tournaments in October.

Those opportunities provided Pannell with additional exposure, which led to a busy day on Sept. 1, the first time college recruiters were allowed to reach out to players in the Class of 2022.

"It was a pretty crazy day," Pannell said. "I didn’t really know what to expect but there were a lot of calls and a lot texts. The first text came in right after midnight and there were 10 that came right away."

Alabama sent the first one to reach Pannell’s inbox, but Tennessee was right behind.

Ultimately, she said her decision came down to five programs, with the Lady Vols earning her commitment over offers from Arkansas, Alabama, Florida State and Michigan.

"I had a lot of interest from some very good programs but Tennessee is where I feel like I belong," Pannell said.

The Tennessee program has finished with winning records in each of the last 19 seasons, and it took a schedule shortened by the coronavirus situation to end a string of 17 straight years that the Lady Vols have won at least 40 games.

A seven-time Women’s College World Series qualifier in the program’s 25-year history, Tennessee reached the NCAA Super Regionals seven times in eight years before the 2020 season was canceled in March.

With her college decision now final, Pannell welcomes the chance to concentrate on her game and preparing academically for the next level.

She believes she will be able to help her college program at either third base, shortstop or in the outfield.

"It feels great to have everything decided," Pannell said. "I can focus on getting better as a player and I can concentrate on my classes that will get me ready for college."

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