Scroll to the bottom to view a video with coach Daniel Brizard
By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- There's just one thing on the minds of each member of the 2013 Tennessee Tech soccer team this season -- earn an appearance in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament for the first time since 2009. That goal was evident Wednesday as the Golden Eagles gathered for their first practice of the 2013 season.
And, while making the OVC tournament is certainly both an achievable goal and this season's long term goal, head coach Daniel Brizard knows that there are some short term tasks that the team will need to address first.
"We have nine new players to add to our program. Quality players. Players we believe are going to help us make that next step," Brizard said
"But first and foremost, we need to get them assimilated on the team and on the same page as everybody else. We need everyone thinking the same way and we still need to find where everybody fits in. I think that'll be the biggest challenge over the next few weeks. They can all play. It's just playing and determining their roles and where will they best fit to help the team."
Brizard knows that the sooner the freshmen fit in to this year's squad, the better, as the Golden Eagles try to improve on last season that saw the team fall just short in several contests. Tech won five matches in 2013, losing five contests by just one goal and another five matches by two goals.
"Hopefully getting everone on the same page won't take too long," Brizard said. "After that, we're going to get the whole team fit and ready to play. Most of the returners have been back for a week already and have been out here playing on their own. It's nice to see that and they're all itching to get back to competition. They knew we were close last season and they're looking forward to climbing over that hump and winning more of those close contests and getting into the conference tournament.
"I think the ability of the incoming kids combined with the talent of our returning class is going to make for an interesting year and a fun year. I think we have the talent to compete fairly well with our schedule, both conference and non-conference."
The Golden Eagles will see its first action of 2013 with an exhibition match at Tennessee Wesleyan on Aug. 17. And, while the contest will certainly help the team determine some of those undefined roles that Brizard mentioned, the Golden Eagles also know that they have to take the results of the contest with a grain of salt after dominating last season's exhibition, 8-0.
There are three goals Brizard would like to see his squad accomplish heading into its first action of year and he was pretty quick to define those goals.
"Our immediate goals are pretty much:
- Testing out the girls' fitness levels and finding out where they are at.
- Making sure they can all fit into our system and know their roles and figure out what we want them to do. They're all coming together from different backgrounds and different styles of play.
- And then lastly, we have to figure out who our first 11 are going to be and then who will the first ones in to substitute. We'd like to find a good, solid rotation by that first regular season match."
Tech will count on a total team effort to be successful in 2013, but Brizard thinks there are a couple of girls who have a chance to really step forward and contribute in a big way this season.
A senior this year, forward Ellie Iaciofano is coming off a career season where she finished third in the OVC in goals scored with eight and third in total points with 20. She earned all-OVC second-team honors for her efforts, but Brizard feels she could be even better in 2013.
"To be honest, I think Ellie is going to have an even better year this year than she did last year," he said, "just due to the fact that we're going to have a little bit more help up top. With the kids we have coming in, along with some returners, I think we'll feel confident to give her longer rests so that when she is on the field, she is at or close to 100 percent as possible every match.
"I think that that is important because you can be a quality player like Ellie, but if you're run into the ground, it doesn't help. She likes to use speed to get by people and you can't do that when you're at 50 percent capability. We're expecting a lot from her and I truly feel like she will have another big year for us."
As far as newcomers making an impact, Brizard let it be known that there are several freshmen who will challenge for starting roles right out of the gate. He also pointed out that if there was one newcomer who is going to make some noise, it will likely be defender Micki Dye.
"Micki, an incoming freshman from Nashville, is going to come in at right back," said Brizard. "We're looking for big things from her. She's played at a competitive level all her life. She may not get the statistics playing on the back line, but I feel that she is going to have a quality year."
Also expected to make a large impact this season is a player who has been a mainstay for four seasons already. Senior Leigh Heffner returns after missing most of the 2012 season with a torn ACL. Brizard knows that there are just certain intangibles that can't be taught or replaced easily, and that Heffner brings those to the table.
"Leigh may not necessarily have a breakout year, but her presence on our back line is going to be felt," said Brizard. "The way she ended last year with tearing her ACL, I think she's itching to get back there and lead the back line and solidify her place in TTU soccer history. She's a quality player and is going to bring a lot of maturity to that position. We might have two freshmen playing back there with her and that means a lot to have a player of her ability back."
The Golden Eagles will begin the 2013 season on Friday, Aug. 23 with a neutral site match against Kennesaw State in Knoxville.