CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Sara Poteat doesn't feel old.
Then the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga junior infielder takes a look around at some of her teammates.
That's when Poteat truly understands how graduation can truly take its toll on a team.
"It's definitely a different feel," Poteat said of the Lady Mocs' roster. "Especially for me because last year I felt like the young one, and this year I feel like a veteran the younger ones are looking to as a leader."
UTC lost six senior starters from last year's team, which proved to be one of the best in school history.
Now Poteat is one of just six total upperclassmen (three juniors and three seniors) on a roster loaded with young and inexperienced talent.
"Freshmen are exactly what they're name suggests," said head coach Frank Reed, whose team was still tabbed by league coaches to repeat as Southern Conference champs. "We tell them when they came in that they have to become sophomores very quickly. The key is how fast that happens because we're going to call on them to contribute.
"If they don't, it could make for a long season."
Youth isn't Reed's only problem.
Depth at a very key position is also an early-season concern.
"We left our last day of fall practice with four, but within 24 hours we were down to two pitchers," Reed said. "We've won with less talent, but we've never won with fewer numbers."
Chattanooga has been spoiled with a full staff of at least three, and sometimes four pitchers the past few years.
However, when UTC opens the season Friday at the Dot Richardson National Collegiate Invitational in Florida, fifth-year senior Michelle Fuzzard and freshman Taylor Deason will make up the entire Lady Mocs' bullpen.
"We're definitely going to take on a lot of work this year," said Fuzzard, who is the SoCon's reigning Player of the Year. "It's just me and her. There's no third pitcher to pitch that other game (of a weekend conference series).
"We're definitely going to see a lot of time on the mound."
Jenny Garcia was expected to help Fuzzard and Deason shoulder the load across a 56-game season, but the freshman from Miami will miss the season with a knee injury. Brittany Perez also finished the fall season on the UTC roster, but the our media partners at the Times Free Press report she was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.
Reed worked the recruiting trail during the winter months in hopes of finding a late addition, but his search came up empty. He's now accepted the fact that if the Lady Mocs are to make a return run to the NCAA Regionals, they'll have to do it with just two pitchers.
"If we do maybe I can win coach of the year again," he said with a smirk. "Honestly, I'm not sure (how we'll do it). We're going to have to do a lot of things that we haven't done before. We'll be creative with our moves, modify workouts and make sure they have some time down.
"If they get hurt, we're in trouble."
If Reed's players are worried about it, they're certainly not showing it. That's likely a credit to Poteat, who appears to be settling into her role as a leader quicker than she thought.
"We're Chattanooga. As long as we're wearing Chattanooga on our shirts, we're going to be confident in each other," she said. "I have a lot of confidence in this team and in these young girls."
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