The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team enters the 2011 season with new faces, new coaches and a new way of getting ready for game day.
UTC head coach Frank Reed is the only returning coach from the 2010 team that won the Southern Conference regular-season title but went 0-2 in the Southern Conference tournament.
Reed said the addition of assistant coaches Amy Herrington-Woodard and Lee Dobbins has given him a chance to look for better ways to prepare the team for this season, which starts with five games Friday through Sunday at the Dot Richardson National Collegiate Invitational in Clermont, Fla.
"I think we've thrown [the team] a curve," Reed said Tuesday at the team's preseason media day. "We've dubbed this 'the year of change' with the fact that we've got two new coaches and we're looking for ways to change things from previous years.
"When we decide how we do something this year, we look at what we did last year and what we want to accomplish. And if there's a different way to accomplish those goals, we try a different way."
For the first time since 2007, the Lady Mocs aren't the favorites to win the Southern Conference title. The league's coaches picked 2010 SoCon tourney champion Elon first with UTC second in the rankings released Tuesday.
Senior pitcher Kandice Irwin says not being picked to win the conference is motivation for her and the rest of the Lady Mocs.
"It gives us a bit of aggressiveness," she said. "We don't have the target on our back like we always do, but it makes us want to work even harder to get to the top."
Irwin and senior outfielder Lyndsey Stiles were first-team selections to the preseason all-conference team.
"It's always a surprise, but it's always a goal of mine," Stiles said of making the team. "I strive to be that because I want to be that kind of leader on this team."
Joining Stiles and Irwin in preseason all-conference honors were second-team choices Tiffany Baker at third base, utility player Kasey Tydingco and pitcher/first baseman Michelle Fuzzard.
Fuzzard returns to the team after missing almost all of 2010 with a significant knee injury that required surgery and earned her a medical redshirt year. She said she feels she's 100 percent recovered and is ready to get back on the field.
"It's hard to get back to exactly where I was last year, but I feel pretty good," Fuzzard said. "In the [pitching] circle will be where I might struggle at first, but once we start going I think I'll get back in physical and mental shape."
For the seven-member senior class, 2011 will be the last chance to win a conference title and go out on top.
"I'm very excited, anxious and nervous," Stiles said. "I'm not ready for it to be over, but I'm very excited to see what this season's going to bring.
"This year's team has come out stronger than ever before. We're so ready mentally, physically. ... We're ready to go out and show people what we're made of."