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Soccer outlook: Senior laden Golden Eagle team opens camp Thursday


COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The two-word description “senior laden” is an ideal way to describe the 2012 Tennessee Tech soccer squad, as head coach Daniel Brizard heads into his third year with eight veterans in tow. Having graduated just one senior from the 2011 squad, the role that these seniors will play this season is not lost on anyone, especially Brizard.

“All of these seniors could very well be on the field at once,” Brizard explained. “A lot of our success this season depends on them buying into what we’re doing. With eight seniors, if they don’t buy into the method, it will hurt us.”
           
The Golden Eagles report to campus on Wednesday (Aug. 1) and open fall camp on Thursday, just nine days before beginning play with an exhibition match.

Last year, the Golden Eagles struggled finding the finishing bite, or the ability to come from behind to close out games. With a field full of talent, the team improved statistically from the year prior – the improvements were just not reflected in the win-loss record.

“We were in more games this past year, which made it harder to take the losses,” Brizard said. “Our record didn’t necessarily reflect the improvements and talent of the team as a whole.”

In 2012, the veterans will lead the team toward the ultimate goal of any squad – to be on the same page. Often times, this is easier said than done, but a strong spring season and the dynamics that will stem from six signees have the Golden Eagles confident.

The seniors are looking to go out with a bigger legacy, and amongst those returning is two-time team MVP Kerri Reid, one of last year’s leading scorers who is expected to continue her trend of leading by example on the field. Playing the role of Tech’s primary center-midfielder, Reid gives the Golden Eagles what they ask for in a center mid – tenacity and consistency.

“Kerri is a good person, both on the field and in the classroom,” Brizard said. “It’s important for Kerri to have a good year, because the team will feed off of that.

“She’s a fighter and she gets the job done. We have to pull her off the field kicking and screaming.”

Tech also returns seniors Andrea Meloff up top, Kris Cambron, Sarah Gawthrop, Alex Stevenson and Jacque Watkins in the midfield, and Leigh Heffner and Julie Thompson on the back line.

THE SCHEDULE (click here to view the 2012 schedule)

The team’s 2012 schedule consists of 20 matches, including an exhibition contest to get the ball rolling.

In addition to the 10-game Ohio Valley Conference slate, the Golden Eagles will play nine non-conference contests and an exhibition match. The majority of the team’s non-conference schedule will be played in within Tennessee against in-state rivals, or in North Carolina.

Brizard’s squad will kick off play on Saturday, Aug. 11 at Tennessee Wesleyan in a 2 p.m. exhibition match. The following Friday (Aug. 17) marks the team’s regular season and home opener, a 3 p.m. game against East Tennessee State.

“As always, we’ve worked to put together a non-conference schedule that will complement conference play,” Brizard said. “We’re focusing a lot on regional non-conference competition with the goal of facing opponents that will prepare us for the OVC.”

September 23 will mark the start of conference action, with the Golden Eagles playing three straight at home to open up OVC play.

“The OVC is proving to become more competitive every year,” Brizard said. “With a leveled playing field narrowing the gap between the top and bottom of the conference, every game takes on more significance.”

FORWARDS

Meloff returns as the veteran forward, playing alongside junior Ellie Iaciofano. Standing 5-3 and 6-0 respectively, the duo complements one another on the attacking line.

A crafty player up top, Meloff had a promising spring season and has spent the past few seasons developing as a player to fit the mold of the Golden Eagle offense. The squad has learned to play to Meloff’s strengths – her ability to get in behind a defense and find slots – which should help with transition play this coming fall.

Iaciofano developed into one of the team’s primary forwards last season, making 2011 her first real experience as an attack-minded player. She recorded three goals to lead the team in scoring along with Reid, but was unlucky several times in her attempts to finish. Her taller stature complements Meloff’s, giving the team a different set of strengths and options to play with, and she’s expected to contribute again on the scoring front this year.

As a junior, Iaciofano already commands the respect of her teammates, and will look to be a leader the next two seasons. It will be important for her to establish herself as an effective finisher and competitor in 2012

Signee Taylor Blazei is another “cheeky” player, according to Brizard, who mimics Meloff’s style of play. She’s good on the ball, has a good eye and the ability to set up others. Brizard looks forward to having Blazei get a lot of experience and minutes this year, as she has the potential to fill during her career as a top forward or attacking midfielder.

MIDFIELD

The Golden Eagle midfield has one key characteristic -- depth. That’s a good thing in that Brizard plans on demanding a good bit of endurance from his midfield, specifically his wide players.

“We’re going to ask the midfield to be defensive and play forward, rather than have them be in attack mode and have to recover,” Brizard explained. “Basically we’re asking the midfield and even the outside backs to be 100-yard players, which is why we need subs.

“We have a good pool of players who are capable of contributing in the midfield, and those who are not starting will likely be asked to play significant minutes.”

Seniors Reid, Watkins, Gawthrop and Cambron, junior Emily Homan and sophomore Amanda Koch will all return as midfielders for the Golden Eagles. Watkins, a tough-nosed player with the ability to overpower her opponents one-on-one, will likely continue to patrol the central portion of the midfield, along with Reid. Meanwhile, Blazei and fellow signees Mackenzie Miller and Taylor Sutton will provide the depth that the squad is looking for.

Miller is a fast, versatile athlete with the ability to get behind a defense, and will be essential in giving the Golden Eagles a good rotation of fresh legs and quality minutes in the midfield. Sutton brings a hard-nosed toughness to the position with promise to win the ball by whatever means necessary. She will be called upon to make stops, and has the potential to become an anchor in the midfield over the course of her career.

DEFENSE

Three will return to the Golden Eagle back line, but the lost center-back experience in graduate Lindsey Reed will prove to be a tall order to fill. Last year, Reed played every minute of all 19 contests for the Golden Eagles at one of two center-back positions. Currently, Heffner anchors the Golden Eagles directly in front of the net at the other center-back position. Heffner is a technical player, good in the air and excellent at reading the attacking play. Her leadership will be key in directing the back line.

 Thompson is expected to fill the role of right side defender. Her confidence has grown over the past two seasons, and her attitude – hard-nosed, driven to win – is exemplary for that position.

On the left side will be rising junior Taylor Hicks. Originally expected to be a forward, Hicks made the move to her current defensive position halfway through her true freshman season in 2010. She has settled into the position well, with her speed being her greatest asset. “You have to beat Taylor like, three times because she’s so fast,” Brizard said. She also has a powerful foot which will prove to be helpful in serving set-pieces from the left side.

Three sophomores in Courtney Dedrick, Hayley Morton and Katie Phillips will compete for Reed’s vacated position in the center. Brizard rotated all three players into that position in the spring and will continue to assess, with the help of his returning back line, who will shoulder the responsibility in the fall. This is just another example of the depth that Brizard has available to him in the midfield area, as all three players are capable of sufficiently aiding in the defense-to-offense transition.

GOALKEEPERS

A consistent, reliable goalkeeper is something that Brizard has been searching for since he took the helm at Tech, and he has recruited three freshmen with the goal of bringing that ongoing search to successful find.

Jordan Brown is a promising keeper out of League City, Tex., with extensive Club and ODP experience. Brown played ODP soccer for '94 Region III and was a member of the US Regional Squad that finished second in the 2009 International Costa Rica Tournament. She was selected for the National Camp in Southern California in 2009 and the Region III Pool in 2008.

 Local products Allison Barlow of Tullahoma and Nicole Hayes of Riceville will also compete for a spot in the net.

“The goalkeeper who gets the job done will play,” Brizard said simply. “We’re looking for someone who can provide steady goalkeeping skills that we haven’t had in the past. They’ll need to be someone the team can trust, and show consistency in practice and games.”