At the start of the 2011 season, there was some cause for concern about the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team.
Perhaps the biggest concern was the fact that head coach Frank Reed had lost his entire staff. Assistant coach Brad Irwin was hired as head coach at East Tennessee State, pitching coach Shaina Ervin had taken a similar position with Georgia Tech and volunteer assistant Jeff Martin had taken a paid position with Lee University.
Surely for many of the Lady Mocs’ opponents, the uncertainty in the coaching staff was seen as potential weakness in the upcoming season.
But Reed took the opportunity to bring in some fresh perspective from new assistants Amy Herrington-Woodard and Lee Dobbins and volunteer assistant Lindsey Ubrun.
“I’m quick to recognize that we’ve had good coaches here and don’t want to take anything away from the coaches we’ve had here before,” Reed said Tuesday at practice. “But I’ve also found out it’s good to have change, just to change things up and do things a little differently.”
The changes clearly worked, with the Lady Mocs having one of the best seasons in school history and earning a spot in the Tuscaloosa Regional of the NCAA tournament.
The Lady Mocs have a 42-12 record entering Friday’s tournament opener against Memphis, and they lead the NCAA in team batting average at .351. They have set school records this season in home runs (55), RBIs (356), runs (378) and total bases (771).
Individually, Michelle Fuzzard is second in the nation with 1.37 RBIs per game, and senior Lyndsey Stiles is fifth with 1.17 runs scored.
Perhaps the most surprising and important hire was Herrington-Woodard, whom Reed lured away from her job as head coach at Appalachian State. She has taken over much of the practice planning from Reed and has helped shake up the routine from past years to help get the Lady Mocs to the next level.
“I think we’ve worked to helping them believe that they are capable of getting this far,” Herrington-Woodard said. “The players have always brought in a nice positive attitude and they’ve wanted to come in and work hard and they’ve wanted to make a statement that they want to be a top team.”
To work with the team’s pitchers, Reed turned to a familiar face in Dobbins, who had worked as a volunteer assistant with the Lady Mocs in 2005 and director of softball operations in 2007.
Dobbins said he was fortunate to inherit a strong veteran pitching staff in seniors Nikki Waters and Kandice Irwin and redshirt junior Fuzzard, as well as freshman left-hander Caroline Curren.
“Obviously we had good seasoned pitchers coming in,” he said. “And we came in and put in a new system, but the pitchers took to it very well.
“We did a lot more conditioning drills as it’s related to pitching than they’ve done in the past. ... I think that’s helping us now at the end of the season.”
To fill the volunteer assistant position, Reed was able to bring in Ubrun, a recent Missouri graduate. She played two years for Maryland and finished her college career at Missouri, where she earned All-America honors and helped the Tigers earn a spot in the 2009 Women’s College World Series in her senior season.
“They were so good to begin with that it was just a matter of getting the reps in and planning for different game plans,” Ubrun said of the Lady Mocs. “But they’ve done such a great job working. ... They’ve really put in the work and it’s showing.”
Urbrun has worked extensively to improve the team’s hitting, and several players credit her for helping prepare them to put up record-breaking offensive numbers in 2011.
“She’s been our main hitting coach,” Stiles said. “We look to her for everything. If I pop up or do something wrong, I immediately look at her and she knows exactly what to tell me to do and what to work on in practice.”
Reed said that he has been impressed with how quickly his new coaching staff came in and got the Lady Mocs prepared to win the conference so quickly.
“My goal was to get quality people to come in to replace the quality people I already had,” he said. “I think everybody thought they had us behind the eight ball once we lost our staff. ... Obviously these guys came in and picked up right where the people we lost left off. I can’t give them enough credit.”
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...