Season outlook kicks off with exhibition against Alabama on Monday

Season outlook kicks off with exhibition against Alabama on Monday

Tech will take on Alabama in the first of two exhibition games at the Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga on Monday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. The team will be looking to avenge two past losses to the Crimson Tide, who they went up against last in 2003.

The contest will give TTU’s new head coach, Daniel Brizard, a chance to see all of his players in action in a team capacity for the first time, and give him a baseline idea of the cohesion of the team less than one week into pre-season.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the team work together in a more competitive setting,” said Brizard. “While we can mimic competition and teamwork during training, nothing can compare to a game day setting.

“It will be great to see what the newcomers bring to the table, as well as the skill and talent that led our returnees through their OVC tournament run last season,” he continued.

Tennessee Wesleyan will travel to Cookeville on Aug. 14 at 5 p.m. for the second exhibition, marking the first time that the two teams have ever matched up in history.

The 2010 season will mark Brizard’s head-coaching debut, as he assumed his title at the beginning of July. He and his assistant Coach, Rachel Yepez, will lead the Golden Eagles through two of exhibition games and 17 regular season contests to what is hopefully a third consecutive OVC tournament appearance.

Both Brizard and Yepez are coming to Cookeville from Louisiana State University, but in different capacities. Brizard spent the past five seasons at LSU as an assistant coach, working primarily with the goalkeepers. Under his instruction, Mo Isom became the first keeper in LSU history to earn All-America honors, while Valerie Volger anchored the backfield for LSU’s first ever SEC West Crown victory and second round appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Yepez is a four-year letterwinner from LSU, having made 76 starts in 83 career appearances at LSU. An All-American and one of the Tiger’s most accomplished scorers, having seen three NCAA tournaments during her tenure, Yepez graduated in May of 2010 with her degree in Sports Administration.

Losing only one senior following the 2009 season, the coaches will join a Golden Eagle squad that returns 20 and welcomes six new signees. Brizard says that he will look to the experience of his returners to lead the team both on and off the field.

“Reaching the OVC tournament final last year and helping to put TTU on the map once again was a valuable experience that the returnees will have leading into this fall,” Brizard emphasized. “Players such as the OVC Offensive Player of the Year Jen Hoffman, and Freshman Player of the Year Kris Cambron have obviously been recognized by other coaches as impact players, as has 2nd team all-OVC Taren Brown and OVC all-Newcomer Andrea Meloff,” he explained.

“We would like to keep improving on what the team did last year with the returnees building on that experience.”

Six seniors will return for the Golden Eagles as former team captain Brooke Mayo, Michelle Decker, Kathryn Lally and Ashley Smith join Hoffman and Brown at the top of the list, while juniors Krista Kaump, Lindsey Reed and Mary Gray Johnson will also be back in action.

OVC Player of the Year Jen Hoffman led the Golden Eagles with nine goals and one assist for 19 total points, and ended her junior season ranked first in the conference in goals including three against EIU in a 3-2 overtime victory on November 5 to fuel the Golden Eagles in the OVC tournament.

However, the roster deepens immensely with the return of 11 sophomores who comprised the first recruiting team for Tech last year, including OVC honorees Meloff and Cambron.

Meloff ranked second on the team and in the conference in goals and points en route to earning all-Newcomer honors. Cambron was third on the team in goals and points, and made 16 starts for the Golden Eagles, logging 1271 minutes in total. Sophomores Sarah Gawthrop, Julie Thompson and Leigh Heffner led the team in minutes played as they aligned the defense and mounted a transitional attack for Tech from the backfield.

The addition of four new forwards, a center midfielder and a goalkeeper in the 2010 signing class will provide additional depth to rotate, especially into the front line. However, Brizard hopes to motivate the team to push one another to determine permanent positions.

“I would like to find some cohesion when writing down the starting line-up, but I will not force it to happen,” said Brizard. “We will have a deep roster as far as numbers are concerned, but it’s up to the players to determine if they deserve a ‘permanent spot’ in the line-up. If players are proving to be inconsistent then we will vary the line up until someone steps in to fill each and every position,” he continued.

Tech will open the season with an exhibition game against Tennessee Wesleyan on August 14th, 10 days after the team reports for pre-season. They’ll then hit the road for a four game stint, starting with a non-conference game against Auburn.

“To face Auburn in the non-conference schedule is very exciting. I think it gives the team a very tough challenge early on that they should all be excited for,” said Brizard.

“If you can’t get pumped to play a team like Auburn then you don’t have a pulse.”

The team will face UT-Chattanooga, Middle Tennessee and Vanderbilt before returning home for a match against UNC-Ashville on September 5. From there, they will continue the split the rest of the non-conference schedule between home and road games, beginning with a trip to Birmingham, Alabama for the Samford Tournament, and returning home to take on Radford and Louisiana Tech for the first time since the start of Golden Eagle women’s soccer.

“We play a very challenging non-conference schedule, including two quality SEC opponents in Auburn and Vanderbilt – both of which have been very successful and have quality national players,” said Brizard. “They both play a very attractive style of soccer, maintaining control and possession, and will prove to be very tough opponents.”

“Other teams such as Samford and MTSU both have had success in their conferences and will prove to be quality opponents. It will be interesting to test the team early and often against these teams, and give them an opportunity to show what they are made of before conference play.”

October will be a split month as well, and will mark the start of the conference schedule. Tech will host the first four conference match-ups, facing Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky, Murray State and UT-Martin over the first two weekends of the month. They’ll finish the regular season on the road against SEMO, EIU, Jacksonville State and Austin Peay.

“The conference schedule is very exciting to me,” disclosed Brizard. “Conference games are about rivalries and history and nothing can match the excitement of a tight game at home or on the road with a conference opponent.”

A respectable length preseason including an exhibition game will give the Golden Eagles the opportunity to train for what will prove to be an exciting albeit challenging schedule. The team hopes to spend a lot of time throughout the season developing their own unique style of play, one that focuses on controlled possession and distribution.

Over the course of the entire season, the Golden Eagles will face 10 non-conference opponents early on in preparation for the eight conference contests. Of the 18 games, they will face two NCAA contenders from the 2009 season in Auburn and Murray State. Brizard hopes that the challenging schedule will push the team to achieve their 2010 season goals.

“If truth be said, I would like us to win the regular season title and the tournament title,” he admitted. “I think that any goal for a team should be to win the conference and conference tournament and make it to the NCAA’s.”

“That being said, I would like us to improve on last year’s markers by at least finishing in the top two in the regular season with a winning record, and winning the post-season tournament for an invitation to the NCAA’s,” Brizard continued. “I believe that with the group that is returning, and our very talented newcomers, these are all attainable goals.”

The Tech team will also spend a good amount of time off the field together representing Tech soccer throughout Cookeville. Tentative plans include hosting local soccer clinics and volunteering at schools to build chemistry through community involvement. Notorious for being present at other athletic events, the soccer team will also continue to support the other athletic and academic programs at Tech by continuing to attend both athletic and SAAC sponsored events.