“This was about me, my happiness, my mental health, and trying to find a place that I really felt like I could thrive.”
With that thought, Ally Shipman put to bed any doubts about her motives for transferring from Tennessee. JWOS spoke with Shipman in an exclusive 1-on-1 conversation on Wednesday night after she announced her intentions to transfer and play at Alabama.
After entering the portal in late June, Shipman said on Wednesday that a desire to be present for her team during the season meant that thoughts on entering the transfer portal didn’t even begin until after Tennessee’s season ended.
“I’m always going to be really focused, wherever I’m at, and I was completely committed to my time at Tennessee and to them and to the team. But at the same time, I always kind of felt that I just wasn’t able to be myself a lot there,” Shipman said. “I had a pretty interesting run at Tennessee, with a lot of different things between my injury and then Covid. Just a lot of different hard hits, and that has nothing to do with the program at all. But this season was really difficult for me, not just performance-wise on the field but off the field, as well. I never really thought about getting into the portal until our season ended, because I was committed to winning as a Lady Vol this season. But once the season ended, I started talking to my parents about it and talking about it as a possibility. I spent a couple of weeks just in that in-between phase of ‘Do I do this?’ and then finally decided to jump in.”
While we’re on the subject of the Lady Vols’ season ending, Shipman was quick and particular to note that on-field happenings – including Tennessee’s early postseason elimination – were not factors in her decision to transfer.
“None at all. It had nothing to do with performance on the field or the team winning or losing… it was bigger than that. It was about me, my mental health, and me as a person before a player,” Shipman noted. “I believe 100% in those girls and I believe in that team. It had nothing to do with winning and losing or making the World Series… this was a ‘me’ thing.”
Describing entering the portal as incredibly stressful, Shipman noted that “a lot of thought and a lot of prayer” went into her decision to transfer.
“It was scary,” Shipman said with a small chuckle. “You don’t know what anybody is going to have [available], and you don’t know where you’re going to end up. And honestly, you don’t know if you’re going to go into the portal and then there’s going to be nowhere else that’s going to be better for you situationally. So it was a really scary thing for me, and I spent a lot of time with my parents talking about the pros and cons of staying and the pros and cons of leaving. I think the scariest part was actually clicking that ‘Submit’ button on the transfer paperwork… it actually makes it official and it was one of those where I just closed my eyes and clicked it, and then it’s done and you went for it.”
Once her name appeared in the transfer portal, Shipman proved to be a hot commodity. She might be the biggest portal entrant this calendar year and she garnered interest from an appropriately-high level of potential new homes that were interested in trying to add her to their rosters. From day one, she knew what qualities she wanted to find in a new home.
“I was definitely looking for that culture piece as my number one,” Shipman said. “I wanted to be in a place that cultivated me as a person and that I felt truly cared for me as a person over a player. I wanted to be at a school where it felt like a family. I loved Tennessee, the coaching staff, the people, and the players, but it just didn’t feel like quite the right fit for me. Going into it, I didn’t know 100% what I wanted… my top things were who has the best culture? Do I know anybody [on the team]? Do I know any of the players? And then also, are there going to be any options to be close to home, where my family lives in Knoxville now? And are they still going to be competitive?”
Rumors have flown a-plenty since Shipman’s decision to transfer went public, and she’s heard many of them herself. On Wednesday, Shipman spoke directly about many of the rumored reasons and took the time to debunk some of the more popular – yet incorrect – trains of thought.
JT Shrout, a former Tennessee quarterback, is Shipman’s significant other and rumors flew that she was leaving Tennessee to ‘follow’ him. Shrout transferred to Colorado earlier this summer, but that was a non-factor in Shipman’s decision to transfer.
“No. I hate that rumor,” Shipman said matter-of-factly. “I had coaches that asked me about that, actually. But no, that wasn’t a factor at all. We’ve done a great job with long distance since he left; of course, I miss him a lot, but that was not any reason for me to leave.”
Equally irrelevant in her decision were Tennessee’s coaching moves. Shipman entered the portal shortly after news broke of Tennessee’s plan to hire Chris Malveaux as hitting coach following Ralph Weekly’s retirement as co-head coach, but that timing was coincidental if anything.
“I kind-of had a feeling that Ralph would be retiring this year,” Shipman said. “And Malveaux coming into that program is a huge addition for them. I’m super excited to see what he’s going to be able to do with those hitters. But this was about me and trying to find a place that I could really thrive, and it had nothing to do with Ralph even or Malveaux coming in.”
After whittling down the initial list of interested programs, Shipman took just two official visits to potential new homes. It wasn’t her plan to decide after just two, but once she got on campus in Tuscaloosa, things just felt right and it didn’t take long to realize that she wanted to be part of the University of Alabama.
“[Alabama] actually sat me down in their film room and showed me some highlight video from the World Series, and you could see how much the team loved one another and loved the coaching staff,” Shipman noted. “I had goosebumps watching these videos seeing things like when Lexi Kilfoyl won a game, the first one out of the dugout was Montana Fouts, cheering her head off for her. Little things like that, you could see how much they cared about one another. That was one of the big things for me… I knew right then and there. Somebody told me ‘there’s a feeling you get when you know you’re at the place you’re meant to be.’ By the second day, I was like ‘I know this is the place that I’m meant to be.'”
When she hits the field at Alabama, Shipman will be tasked with catching Fouts on an almost-daily basis. She laughed lightly when she talked about Fouts, who Shipman spoke with multiple times before committing to the Crimson Tide.
“It’s incredible; she’s the best pitcher in the nation,” Shipman said. “I loved catching [Tennessee pitcher] Ashley Rogers, and I love Ashley Rogers to death, you know. And I feel like with Montana, it will be similar to that. I talked to Montana a couple of times after I’d gotten into the portal and really hit it off with her. That was another factor there, and I’m really excited to catch her and get to work with her.”
Comparing her commitment to Tennessee as a high school recruit to her more recent commitment, as a “portal recruit” if you will, to Alabama, Shipman drew stark differences between the two decisions and her feelings upon making them.
“I think they were pretty different, and I think the biggest part of that is, you know, I’m 21 years old now, not 13. I think my priorities were different when I was thirteen, and as you mature and age, obviously they’re going to change. I think that was one of the downfalls of early recruiting. But like I said earlier, I loved my time at Tennessee and I have zero regrets about choosing Tennessee in the first place. This was different, and I think the majority of why is due to the fact that I’m older and my priorities have changed now.”
Tennessee and Alabama may not play until Shipman’s redshirt senior season in 2023, but whenever the two teams do meet, Shipman doesn’t know how she’ll feel to see her past and present worlds collide. “I have no idea what to expect!” Shipman said. “I’m still pretty good friends with a lot of girls [at Tennessee], but when you get into competition mode, things switch very fast. I really have no idea what to expect.”
In Tuscaloosa, Shipman will have the chance to start a fresh slate and build a new legacy with the Crimson Tide. It’s an opportunity that she says excites her. “It’s a fresh start,” Shipman said of heading to T-town. “It’s something new for me. You know, some people have said that living under the shadow of [older sister & former Tennessee All-American]Maddi was too much for me, but that wasn’t the case at all. Maddi is my biggest supporter. I’m just excited; a fresh start, it’s incredible. And my whole family is behind me, they’re all supporting me. Even Lady-Vol-for-life Maddi is 100% supporting me and it’s really exciting to have everybody behind me.”