The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team will have its first official practice of the 2018-19 season this afternoon at the Chattem Practice Facility.
It will be Katie Burrows' first practice as the team's head coach after eight seasons as an assistant, first under Wes Moore, who moved on to North Carolina State, and then Jim Foster, who retired after last season.
The Mocs finished 17-13 in Foster's final season as head coach, falling to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the first round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament. They graduated three seniors — sisters Aryanna and Keiana Gilbert, and Anna Claire Noblit — while also losing freshman guard Jacobi Lynn, who has transferred to Tennessee Wesleyan, an NAIA program.
The Mocs' season opener is Nov. 6 at home against Lee University, the Division II program from nearby Cleveland. Today, the Times Free Press looks at five questions entering the season:
1. What will they look like?
There likely won't be much of a style change from Foster to Burrows. It may be a little bit more open, but aside from that, little will be different other than some minor tweaks expected with any coaching change. Burrows coaches with more noticeable emotion than the stoic Foster, and that will be an adjustment for the returning players, but the on-court adjustments should be minimal.
2. Who will replace the Gilberts' production?
The Gilbert sisters scored 43 percent of the Mocs' points last season, a number that was higher until Keiana missed the final four games due to injury. Her absence led to the emergence of sophomore Brooke Burns, who averaged 16.2 points in her five games as a starter — she had 36 in a Southern Conference tournament quarterfinal loss to UNC Greensboro — and doubled her scoring average. Junior Lakelyn Bouldin could be asked to make more plays, too, while Arianne Whitaker had an up-and-down year as a sophomore last season and would need to be more consistent.
3. Which freshmen will step up immediately?
In recent seasons, the Mocs have been blessed with the sort of quality recruiting that has led to impactful first seasons from players such as Bouldin, Burns and Keiana Gilbert, to name a few. While it's not clear if that player exists on this season's roster, Bouldin wasn't expected to contribute as much as she did immediately, either. Forward Eboni Williams — a versatile threat — or guard Morgan Hill, a prep scoring machine, are possibilities.
4. How's the depth?
Coaches have done a good job of developing the players within the program. Shelbie Davenport has been a versatile player since transferring from Clemson, while Molly Melton grew into a key role player last season. While Burns had the great ending to the season, sophomore Bria Dial was the one who earned All-Freshman SoCon honors. Sophomore forward Rochelle Lee and guard Mya Long had solid moments in their initial campaigns with the program. With the return of junior Nakeia Burks — who started during the team's trip to Canada last August but tore an ACL four games into the season — Burrows should feel good about the quality of players she has returning from last season.
5. What are the expectations?
The Mocs became victims of their own previous success last season — a good one by most standards, but disappointing by the standards set after they won five consecutive SoCon championships. The league probably isn't as top-heavy as it was last season, when Mercer went 17-0 against SoCon competition, and with as many if not more impact players returning from last season than the one before, UTC is likely to be back in the mix by the time it's all over. Of course, a nonconference schedule that features 12 games against teams that reached the NCAA tournament or WNIT last season will help toughen the Mocs prior to an improved SoCon slate.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.