COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Only six days after defeating Tennessee Wesleyan 8-0 in a preseason exhibition, the Tennessee Tech soccer team will open its regular season Friday when it hosts the Buccaneers of East Tennessee State.
The Golden Eagles will begin their third season under head coach Daniel Brizard with a 3 p.m. contest at the Tech Soccer Field. ETSU will look to make up for it’s early home loss to Tech last season.
“ETSU is an experienced team,” said Brizard. “They’re going to want to come here and get revenge. We went up there last year and won by a narrow margin. We held on and probably escaped with the win. ETSU is a great team and has a great coach. He’ll do wonders with them no matter what the quality of players he has.”
The team will follow up Friday’s home match with a trip south for a road match-up against UT-Chattanooga on Sunday at 12 p.m.
“The two teams we play this weekend are comparable to our Ohio Valley Conference opponents," Brizard said. "It will be a good early-season test to see where we stand before we reach our OVC schedule. They’re both in-state rivals, so that means something also. UTC might be a little more of a rival for us since they are closer and we have some girls from the Chattanooga area. Both will be great games this weekend. I expect close games and its soccer. It could go either way, but hopefully it will go our way in the end."
Tech returns eight seniors this season, the largest class in program history, and will rely heavily on the experience of the veterans throughout the year. The senior class boasts more than 400 games of experience and seven of the eight have playd at least 54 games. That much prior playing time will be a key to the success of the Golden Eagles this season.
“I think with the seniors, if they do well, we’ll do well," Brizard said. "If they do poorly, we’ll do poorly. I think it’s such a large class and they’ve got the experience. They are a great group of kids. A lot of our season is going to revolve around just what they bring to the game and to what they want to do as a whole. At any given time, six to seven of them could be out on the field at the same time. When you only play 11 players, that’s a good chunk of the field with experience. I think it’s going to be fun for them and hopefully they can go out an leave a legacy of success and have fun while doing it.”
The senior-laden team boasts a fantastic midfield with returning starters and seniors Kris Cambron, Sarah Gawthrop, Kerri Reid, and Jacquie Watkins. Cambron and Gawthrop act as an impressive set of bookends to the strong line and are expected to provide a strong offensive attack this season.
Cambron, a former Ohio Valley Conference first teamer and co-freshman of the year, has recorded eight goals and seven assists during her career at Tech and will look to add to that total in 2012. Gawthrop, the team’s primary corner kicker, is looking to show off the speed that has led her teammates to dub her “Cheetah.”
The middle of the midfield is run by long-time leaders Reid and Watkins. The general of the midfield, Reid has started every game she has played as a Golden Eagle and brings such a fighter’s mentality to the game that it has Brizard comparing her to Micky Ward from the Fighter. Watkins, the ying to Reid’s yang, provides the team with a tireless work ethic and a ‘do anything to win’ mentality that has been contagious throughout the team during the preseason. All four girls will be called on to carry a large work load during the season.
Sweeping up the remains behind the midfield are defenders Leigh Heffner, Julie Thompson, and Alex Stevenson. Stevenson returns to the team after a year away from soccer and will look to provide some veteran leadership to the young class of newcomers and sophomores.
Twice named to All-OVC teams, the highly decorated Heffner will continue to be a mainstay on the back line for the Golden Eagles. Her ability to remain calm and focused at all times will be a huge advantage for the team this season as they look to build off an exhibition win that saw only three shots allowed the entire game.
For the fourth straight year, Thompson will provide consistency and a strong work ethic for the back line for Tech. She recorded more than 1,700 minutes of play last season and played all 90 minutes of nearly every game in 2011. The coaching staff is expecting a breakout year for the senior from Knoxville.
Forward Andrea Meloff will play a vital role for the Golden Eagles up front this year. She already ranks fifth on the Tennessee Tech All-Time list for goals scored with 15 in her career. Meloff will be counted on to get the ball into the back of the net this season by using her ability to create shots from nothing and her crafty style of play.
Also playing a key to the 2012 campaign will be the play of Tech’s two freshman goalkeepers. Already being dubbed “Hope Duo,” the nickname for freshmen Allison Barlow and Jordan Brown couldn’t have more meaning for the Golden Eagles hopes this season. Both players have shown signs of excellence this preseason, while also making key improvements in separate training sessions with Brizard.
“It’s been fantastic to have two goalkeepers that are competing, that want to be here, and that want tot take their game to next level," Brizard said. "I think the players trust them. They love the competitiveness that they show at practice and in training. I think they’re going to be a big part of the season. With goaltending, it’s always nice to have a solid goalkeeper that we aren’t second-guessing. In our warm-up match, they both played well. I think it’s going to be reassuring this whole season and I think they’ll play a big part of our success.”
The sophomore class of the Golden Eagles returns Amanda Koch, Chelsea Ladd, Katie Phillips, Kelsey McGohan, Hayley Morton, and Courtney Dedrick. With players covering every position other than goalkeeper, the class is expected to build upon its lessons from last season and provide more depth as the season gets under way.
Not to be forgotten, the Tech soccer team welcomes freshman Taylor Blazei, Mackenzie Miller, and Taylor Sutton. With the capability of playing multiple positions, the freshmen will look to add minutes wherever they can and provide a spark of youth to the Golden Eagle roster.
Scouting the ETSU Buccaneers
The Bucs are coming off a successful season, finishing second in the Atlantic-Sun Conference after racking up a 7-1-1 conference record. They finished the season 12-5-1 while making it to the semifinals of the Atlantic-Sun conference playoffs.
ETSU will look to replace over half of its offense after graduating its top two scorers from 2011. The team returns two seniors while bringing in a freshman class of seven.
The preseason has been kind to the Buccaneers as its boasts a 1-0-1 record after exhibition matches against VMI and Appalachian State.
The Golden Eagles are 4-3-3 all time against ETSU with the most recent meeting coming last season. Tech eked out a 2-1 victory in 2011 with Iaciofano knocking in a deflection in the 64th minute.
Scouting the Chattanooga Mocs
Chattanooga finished a tough year in the Southern Conference with a 1-9-1 record in conference play. They managed a 6-10-2 record overall in 2011, including a 2-1 victory over Tech in its season opener.
While it boasts a senior class of five, Chattanooga welcomes a massive freshman class to the 2012 season. Ten newcomers are expected to compete right away for starting roles within the roster and improve the depth for the team.
With no exhibition matches on the schedule, the Mocs will open the season with a three-game home stand, beginning with TTU. The Golden Eagles are 4-10-0 all time against Chattanooga.