The Chattanooga women’s basketball team has taken a step back the last two seasons.
Not too far back, though, considering where it was.
The Lady Mocs strung together 11 straight Southern Conference regular season titles (1999-2010), including eight trips to the NCAA Tournament, but their dominance has since been interrupted.
UTC has posted consecutive third-place finishes in the SoCon, and are 2-2 in its last two conference tournament appearances.
Head coach Wes Moore, entering his 15th season, looks to get his team back on top this season, and he’ll be looking to do it with a wealth of returning talent.
“I feel really good about the group we have,” Moore said “The two freshmen (Tatianna Jackson and Alicia Payne) have very high basketball IQs. We’ve got a whole lot of juniors, and two seniors in Kylie and Kayla, that I think are real anxious to go out in style."
Seniors Kayla Christopher (9.4 ppg, 2.3 apg), an All-SoCon selection and the team’s leading scorer a year ago, and Kylie Lambert (8.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) bring a load of experience to UTC’s backcourt, and Moore feels confident enough in Alex Black to let the junior run the point.
“Alex has been in the program now for two years,” Moore said. “She has always had a great amount of talent, and I feel like she’s grasping things better. The mental part of being a point guard I think has been difficult for her, but she looks better so far.”
Black didn’t start a game last season but averaged 16.3 minutes off the bench and was third on the team with 49 assists.
Moore said that forward Taylor Hall has had an exceptional preseason, and the 6-1 junior appears poised for a big season. Hall led the team in rebounding (8.5 rpg) a season ago, and was second in scoring (9.1 ppg)
Faith Dupree, a 6-3 forward, also had a solid preseason, but the Tennessee transfer recently aggravated her back — an injury that could have lingering effects.
“Right when we start getting to practice, Faith’s back goes out,” Moore said. “She did go (on Monday) some, so she’s easing back into it, but it’s probably going to be something that comes and goes.”
Ashlen Dewart, a 6-3 junior, will be another option in the low post for Chattanooga, along with sophomore Kayla Freeman. Dewart sat out last season after transferring from Appalachian State, while Freeman played sparingly as a freshman.
“I do feel a little bit better about our depth, [but] unfortunately, we don’t have any depth beyond that,” Moore said. “We really can’t afford injuries, but if we keep everybody healthy, I feel real good about being able to shuffle people in and out and use the bench a little more.”
Guards Meghan Downes (3.9 ppg) and Ka’Vonne Towns (3.0 ppg) picked up valuable experience off the bench a season ago, both averaging more than 10 minutes. Downes played in all 32 games, starting one, while Towns appeared in 28.
The Lady Mocs open their season Nov. 9 when they host Tennessee, and for the first time in nearly four decades, Pat Summitt will not be on the Lady Vols’ sidelines. Tickets to UTC’s opener are on sale now to Mocs Club members, and single-game tickets go on sale to the general public Oct. 15.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.