There will be a lot of new players on the field when the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team opens the 2013 season next week.
Nine true freshmen, two transfer players and redshirt freshman Jenny Garcia will be making their UTC debuts, and there will be plenty of chances for them to have early impacts for a team that fell short of a Southern Conference title last season.
Sara Poteat and Kasey Tydingco are the Lady Mocs' lone four-year seniors -- joined by a third senior, Ninjja Suetsugu, a junior college transfer -- and they are ready to see how the new team comes together when real games begin.
"It's exciting. We love all these new girls, and they come in with the drive and heart and we've meshed really well," Poteat said Thursday at the team's media day. "Me and Kasey just try to lead by example most of the time. ... We're just all so excited to get on the field together."
Poteat, Tydingco and sophomore Cheyenne Willis were first-team all-conference preseason selections for UTC, which was picked to finish second behind Georgia Southern in a vote by the league's coaches. Junior Stephanie Rieck and sophomores Taylor Deason and Sarah Beth Roberts were second-team selections.
UTC lost a lot of power from last year's team with the graduation of Southern Conference player and female athlete of the year Michelle Fuzzard, slugging catcher Vivian Morimoto and shortstop Jessica Traxler. In addition, Willis will miss the season after a knee injury and surgery over the summer, and other injuries and issues have limited some of last season's contributors heading into this year.
"Early on we're going to have to be willing to steal a base and move people over like that," UTC coach Frank Reed said. "But every year someone steps up that you don't expect, so we have to see what happens as we get started."
He and his assistants have had to adjust to a larger than normal squad, with two dozen players on the roster.
"It's been somewhat of a challenge trying to figure out how to get 24 people the reps they need to get up to where we need them to be," Reed said. "But if we don't do that, then we don't feel like we can accurately evaluate where they are."
With so much turnover, several newcomers will be expected to contribute early. Among the players Reed feels could have an early impact are freshmen Alyssa Taylor and Rachel Albritton.
"I'm so excited. I can't wait," said Taylor, who could see early starts at shortstop. "The upperclassmen have told us and prepared us for the season. ... I'm really excited for next week, to start traveling and to be on the field."
One position that has gotten an upgrade, at least in numbers, is the pitching staff. After only having Fuzzard and Deason available as pitchers in 2012, the Lady Mocs have been practicing with five pitchers heading into this season.
"[Pitching] may be a strength for us, simply because we have Taylor back but also because we have so much depth at that spot," Reed said. "Honestly, we have some kids that are throwing really, really well."
Deason, as a second-team All-SoCon selection last year in her freshman season, said she has enjoyed making the transition from newcomer to key pitcher.
"It's an honor to know that those girls are going to need me to be a leader," she said. "I've been there. They're going have questions and worry. It feels good to know that I'm that girl they're going to come to."
UTC will open the season Feb. 8 against Fordham in the opening game of the National Training Center Invitational in Clermont, Fla. The Lady Mocs' home openers will be Feb. 22-24 when they host the Frost Classic.