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Ashley Rogers Listens To Her Body As She Returns From Injury

(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

Injuries are an unfortunate part of sports. However, the path back to the field can create a better, stronger athlete. That’s the hope for Ashley Rogers as she returns to the circle in 2021 for Tennessee.

After an All-SEC First Team season during her freshman year in 2019, Rogers felt pain in her lower back in the fall. The team made the decision to let her rest that Christmas break before ramping up training for the season. In January, the discomfort returned while she pitched and it even felt worse. A scan on her back came back “hot” on her L5 vertebrae and she was shut down completely for four more weeks followed by four weeks of rehab that didn’t include pitching.

As the 2020 season was cut short, Rogers never got to touch the field. It did teach her a vital lesson, however. She needed to listen and be more open about how her body felt.

“We’ve had to make adjustments in terms of the rehab process and just listening to my body better,” Rogers told Softball America in a phone interview. “My back is feeling good now. I discussed with the training staff and coaches what I needed to stay healthy. They’ve been awesome and really receptive to what I had to say.”

Rogers last threw in a game against Florida in the Volunteers' heartbreaking loss to the Gators in the 2019 Super Regionals. She’s been enthusiastic as the 2021 season approaches because she’s been itching to get back in the circle.

It hasn’t taken former Tennessee hurler and new pitching coach Megan Rhodes Smith long to understand the competitor that Rogers is.

“Ashley is so much fun to coach because she has a relentless desire to improve,” Rhodes Smith said. “That drives her so much (and) she’s constantly seeking ways to get better. Whether it’s a light day or a heavy day, she’s the one that will come and ask the questions. She won’t let the coach dictate whatever needs to happen. She wants to be pushed.”

In her time in the dugout in 2020, Rogers realized that the attention to detail outside the game is as important when she’s on the dirt. Weightlifting, proper nutrition and having communication with coaches and teammates are essential parts of life when you are a Division I athlete.

Rogers wants to be more open in 2021. She wants to be able to establish within herself that she doesn’t need to play through pain or believe that she needs to carry a team like she once did in high school.

“In all aspects of life, just telling them how you’re feeling that day. Like, ‘Guys, I don’t feel like my best today, I really need you guys,‘” Rogers said. “That’s something that’s been really hard for me to do because I’ve never had to in the past. At this level, you’re going to get hit. The injury has really opened up my eyes to that and that I can rely on my teammates for more when I step onto the field.”

Callie Turner stepped in as a freshman last season to carry the pitching load after Tennessee lost nearly 400 innings pitched between Rogers, Caylan Arnold (transfer) and Matty Moss (graduation). Rogers tried to mentor Turner as much as she could as a teammate. The two are polar opposites in pitching styles, but Rogers mentioned that so are their personalities, which makes for a fun friendship.

“They’re going to be an interesting tandem,” Rhodes Smith said. “What they do well is very opposite, what they bring to the table and their demeanor in the circle. They both have their teammates’ trust and respect, and each other’s trust and respect. They’re going to have each other’s back and consistently have a team-first approach.”

For Rogers, it’s back to business now that she’s healthy. Tennessee’s start to the 2020 season was hard for her to watch while not being able to compete. Once she walks back into the circle, Rogers wants to guide the Vols back to their 2019 form.

“We know who we are as a team. That wasn’t us last year,” Rogers said. “We are super talented, super good and we know we have the capability to go all the way. We’ve worked so hard this offseason to come in and be who we are as a team.”

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