CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.-- As Chattanooga Head Coach Frank Reed said on media day, outfield roles are wide open up until opening day. With 10 outfielders listed on the Lady Mocs roster, it could create some friendly competition leading up to the Feb. 8 opener against Fordham.
Chattanooga returns three outfielders from last season's squad, but they also add seven newcomers- Three by class, three by transfer and one on return from injury. The only thing standing between the bench and the grass for this season's student-athletes is offense.
"A lot of the defensive positions are going to be decided based on how we structure our offense," Reed said. "We know we have pitchers who aren't going to hit, so that also opens up a designated hitter spot for girls."
Junior Stephanie Rieck (Chandler, Ariz.) returns and is looking to claim her spot in the outfield she began to occupy mid-season in 2012. The right fielder recorded a .430 batting average, which was good for third on the team, through 100 at-bats. While she showed she could hold her own on defense, her .520 slugging percentage and 15-game hitting streak ensured a spot in the lineup for the Chandler, Ariz. native. Rieck was named to the 2012 All-Southern Conference Second-Team and earned a spot on the 2013 Preseason All-SoCon Second-Team just one week ago.
Junior Kaiti Dutton (Tulsa, Okla.) looks to solidify herself as an everyday-starter in 2013. The Tulsa, Okla. native started 19 games last season, including 14 of the first 18. The speedy Dutton was moved into a pinch hitting/running role, playing in a total of 31 games last season.
"Dutton has been penciled in as a starter since her freshman year, but she hasn't been able to find a way to stay out there," Reed said. "Both her freshman and sophomore years she started about a quarter of our first games. Hitting is going to be crucial for her because if she hits, she is our stronger outfielder."
The versatility and bat of freshman Samantha Taylor (Chickamauga, Ga.) could earn her a spot in the lineup, based on fall performance. Brought in as an infielder, the freshman began workouts during the fall season in the grass. The left-handed hitter could offer a reliable bat at the top of the lineup as well as a sure-handed glove anywhere on the field. As a result of Sara Poteat's (Thomaston, Ga.) productivity from the two-spot in the lineup in 2012, Taylor would be looked to anchor the first spot on the lineup card.
"Sam Taylor, who is a freshman but had as good a fall season as anybody, has a good bat," Reed said. "That is one of the reasons we brought her here. She can play second base and she can play outfield. She is stronger on the infield, but she has gotten better in the outfield as we've given her work over the last few months. She is an ideal leadoff hitter if you wanted to put Poteat in the two-spot."
Another bat that could find its way into the lineup is that of redshirt freshman Jenny Garcia (Miami, Fla.) who sat out her entire first season with the Lady Mocs due to an ACL injury, but shortstop-turned-outfielder could be making a comeback in a big way in 2013.
"I think Jenny Garcia is someone that hasn't even been factored in yet," Reed said. "She came on in the fall as our absolute best hitter after spending a whole year out. Because of her knee, I don't see her going back to shortstop, but I can definitely see her being in the outfield, as well as pitching. That throws another young kid out there as a redshirt freshman. There are a lot of opportunities out there, and if she continues to hit like she did in the fall, she'll be in the lineup."
Garcia has yet to play a game at the collegiate level. Clermont, Fla., the Lady Mocs first stop and Garcia's home state, may play host to her college debut. Garcia spent the fall of 2011 in the outfield and pitching before suffering a knee injury on the base paths.
Sophomore Cheyenne Willis (Manchester, Tenn.) is expected to return late in the season after suffering a knee injury over the summer. The Preseason First-Team All-Conference selection earned 2012 All-Conference Second-Team honors last season, tying for the league lead in runs scored (52) with team mate Michelle Fuzzard (Huntington Beach, Calif.) and claimed the top spot with four triples. The Manchester, Tenn. native also finished in the top 10 in the SoCon in hits (57), runs batted in (38) and sacrifice flies (4).
Other listed outfielders to keep an eye on include transfers Tyler Templet (Woodstock, Ga.), Victoria Sovak (Roebling, N.J.) and Courtney Ervin (Seymour, Tenn.), freshman Amanda Ross (Torrance, Calif.) and manager-turned-player Hannah Thurley (Nashville, Tenn.).
Templet is a junior, transferring from Tennessee Tech to UTC in the fall semester. Although listed as both and infielder and outfielder, Templet played the majority of the fall season at third base. As a freshman, Templet served mainly as a pinch runner for the Golden Eagles. She scored 12 of the 24 times she was put on base and made just four plate appearances in 2012.
Sovak is a sophomore who joined the Lady Mocs over the Christmas break. The New Jersey native batted .345 in 2012 with Rutgers-Newark. The redshirt season was her first full season after going down with a knee injury in 2011, as she slugged a team-best .612, led the Scarlet Raiders with 17 extra base hits and five homeruns.
Ervin transfers from Austin Peay where she played in 34 games as a pinch runner and hitter. Ervin was 4-4 in stolen base attempts and scored seven runs.
Ross joins the Lady Mocs after lettering four years at West Torrance High School, where she won 2008 Warrior Rookie of the Year and was a three-time All-League selection.
Thurley joins the team after spending the 2012 season as a manager for the softball team. The junior is listed as an outfielder and catcher. The 5-foot-11 Nashville native spent one season as a member of the Lady Mocs basketball team and brings all-around athleticism to the team as a utility player.
The Lady Mocs open their season Friday in Clermont, Fla. at Dot Richardson's National Training Center Invitational. Chattanooga takes on Fordham at noon before meeting with Southern Illinois at 2 p.m. the same day.