Despite a 39-win season, a 20-2 regular-season record in Southern Conference play and the best batting average in NCAA Division I, the 2012 season ended up as a disappointment for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team.
For the first time since 2006, the Lady Mocs finished a season without a SoCon title. Georgia Southern handed UTC its only regular-season losses, and the Eagles and College of Charleston put the Lady Mocs out of the league tournament.
Saturday's loss to the Cougars was perhaps the most painful, as UTC lost a 6-0 lead in the final two innings and had the game end with two errors.
"This game is sometimes not forgiving," coach Frank Reed said Monday. "We gave that game away, and that's what hurt. ... Maybe it just wasn't our day to win."
As he and his staff assess the season and prepare for next year, the players also want to figure out how to get the team back to the top of the SoCon. UTC wound up with a 61 RPI nationally.
"I think that we have to analyze the team dynamic from this past season," said first baseman Kasey Tydingco, who will join Sara Poteat and Ninjja Suetsugu as seniors next year. "We need to work on it with our experience that we've had and try to bring the team together for our last season."
UTC will be without a lot of offensive firepower next season, as seniors Michelle Fuzzard, Jessica Traxler and Vivian Morimoto accounted for 42 of the team's 66 home runs and 167 RBIs.
"Power is obviously going to be a concern -- we're losing 30-plus home runs," Reed said. "We're going to have a more balanced team -- we're going to have a little more speed next year. ... Obviously we're going to have a strength with [freshman pitcher] Taylor Deason coming back."
Deason, who had 24 wins this season, will be getting some help in 2013 after she and Fuzzard were the only two pitchers this season. Reed expects to have four pitchers available next season as part of a seven-player incoming freshman class.
Poteat said she's excited about the new players coming in and is ready to get started preparing for next season.
"We're excited about it. We've got a good feeling about next year," she said. "There are seven good freshmen coming in, so we're going to do our best to get them comfortable when they get here."
Rising sophomore outfielder Cheyenne Willis expects new leadership to emerge.
"I think a lot of players are ready to step up," she said. "You can always have more than one leader, and there's a lot of players on this team that have the ability -- whether it be by performing on the field or talking."
Poteat, Tydingco and Sara Beth Roberts will return in the infield, and Willis, Layne Rainey and Stephanie Rieck will be back as a more experienced outfield.
"I think I got a chance to show that I can shine, and I think I showed that I can compete in our lineup and be a good asset," said Rieck, who had a .430 batting average after working her way into the starting lineup early in the season. "I'm going to take a short break to do some tanning and some hanging out with friends, and then get back to working out and hitting balls and throwing."
For fifth-year senior Fuzzard -- who ends her career as the SoCon all-time RBI leader and has the UTC record for total bases -- the disappointing end to the 2012 season couldn't diminish the experience of playing softball in Chattanooga.
"No regrets. I'd do it all over again, injury and everything," she said. "Everything I got out of the past five years has been totally worth it. Coaching staffs past and present have gotten me through a lot, and I got a degree out of it."