CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- When the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball program wrapped up last season, head coach Frank Reed collected gear from just 14 players.
But nine months after injuries and defections depleted the Lady Mocs' roster to its smallest number in Reed's eleven-year tenure, the veteran coach is set to open the season with the largest roster in program history.
"I was trying to pencil in our lineup this morning, and I'm really not sure," Reed said. "We usually have between 18 and 20 kids, but this year we're up to 24. It's something I've wanted to do for awhile, and it worked out this year to have the chance and find the talent to do it.
"But it's really going to be an experiment going forward."
Chattanooga graduated just three seniors, but welcomes 14 newcomers into the fold for 2013.
"We've got depth at every position, especially pitcher," said second baseman Sara Poteat, one of just three seniors on this year's team. "I think it's a lot more comforting to know we've got backups, but it's also causing a lot more competition because everyone is battling for so few spots."
The position receiving the biggest boost is pitcher, where the Lady Mocs navigated the 2012 season with just freshman Taylor Deason and senior Michelle Fuzzard in the circle.
While Deason was excited to get plenty of game experience in her first year in college, the lack of depth left little room for error.
"If Fuzz was pitching in the game, I was in the bullpen, or vice-versa, and you never knew what was going to happen," Deason said. "This year it's nice to know if I'm not on my 'A' game, we've got four other girls that can come back me up."
The Lady Mocs will open this season with six pitchers, giving Reed more options than he's ever had at the game's most important position.
"We've got some different types of pitchers with some different styles, so we'll have to see what works," Reed said. "The way I figure it, (Taylor) won 24 last year, we won 40, so someone's got to win the other 16 for us.
"It may be by committee, but we'll give it our best shot."
UTC may also go by committee to generate runs.
The Lady Mocs boasted one of the nation's best-hitting offenses a year ago, but also relied heavily on the long ball with 70 home runs. Fuzzard, Jessica Traxler and Vivian Morimoto combined for 44 of those homers, but all three have since graduated.
Only four players on the current roster managed to clear the fence last year, led by senior Kasey Tydingco's 13 home runs.
"I like to opt for the sure things, but we don't have a lot of power in our lineup," Reed said. "If we can hit at a .350 clip and steal a lot of bases, maybe we could become that team."
Poteat will likely be the key to making that style change. The speedy senior led the team with a .437 average and 18 stolen bases a year ago. However, she was the only player on the team with more than seven steals.
Poteat says it doesn't matter what type of team UTC becomes, as long as it ends up the team winning the Southern Conference Tournament to return to the NCAA postseason.
"We didn't succeed last year in our eyes because we didn't win it," she said. "This year we have to go beyond that and win the conference."
Added Tydingco: "There's still some sour feelings, but everyone looks to this being a completely different team. There's a bunch of new faces and a bunch of new talent, so we're just trying to pave the way for the legacy coming behind us."
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