By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The time has arrived. Nine matches in the books for the Golden Eagle soccer team as the pinnacle of the 2013 campaign unveils itself in the form of Ohio Valley Conference play. Ten upcoming tilts to determine the fate of this year’s team, and it all begins up north with Tennessee Tech (2-7-0) squaring off against SIU Edwardsville on Friday, and Eastern Illinois on Sunday.
The Golden Eagles march into conference play with some momentum on their side after earning a hard fought win on Sunday at East Tennessee State University. TTU blanked the Buccaneers 1-0, using a third-minute goal by senior Shannon Rountree for the contest’s only score.
“Sunday’s win does a lot for us,” fourth-year head coach Daniel Brizard said on the prospects of beginning conference action. “It gives us some confidence going into conference. It’s not that we couldn’t win the games before ETSU, it’s that we had such a hard time getting over the hump, we were so close in so many of them. To come away with a win against a quality team like that is definitely a confidence booster.”
Despite winning only two of nine in the non-conference season, the Golden Eagles were in virtually every single affair. Five of the seven losses were by just one goal, with all five decided in the second half, including Friday’s 2-1 home loss to UT Chattanooga.
“Every team we faced in our non-conference season is probably an identical match to our conference season, so there shouldn’t be any surprises,” Brizard remarked. “All of the schools we played were at the level of our conference, maybe slightly better but no big gaps. I think we know what to expect, but then again it is conference so the intensity level is different.”
Friday’s conference opener with SIUE will be played under the lights (7 p.m. CDT) and will feature a strong Cougars club that has not lost a match since its season opener back on Aug. 23. SIUE comes into the affair 6-1-2, most recently defeating Eastern Washington, 2-1, and drawing Colorado State, 0-0, at the Doublewood Inn Classic this past weekend in Fargo, N.D.
Defense is the name of the game when it comes to the Cougars, as SIUE has surrendered just four goals in nine matches this year.
Defense will also play a huge role for Tech, in more ways than one. Senior defender Leigh Heffner is expected to break the program’s all-time mark for minutes played during Friday's contest. The Golden, Colo,. native is a mere 26 minutes from surpassing Taren Brown’s (’10) record of 6,244 minutes played in a career.
“You know every time Leigh steps out on the field she is giving it all that she has, so to have a chance to get the minutes record is fantastic for her,” Brizard said. “She’s a great leader out there. To come back from a torn ACL and work as hard as Leigh has to get back to this point shows a lot of heart, determination, and even a little bit of stubbornness to not let it defeat you.”
Sunday’s match as Eastern Illinois is set to begin at 12 p.m. CDT, and could still have the Panthers searching for their first win of the season. EIU travels to Belmont on Friday, entering the match with a 0-9-0 record. The Panthers have struggled to push the ball in the back of the net with just two goals on the year, and it doesn’t get any easier with TTU sophomore Jordan Brown in net. The League City, Texas native is first in the OVC and eighth in the nation with 61 saves.
EIU finished seventh in the OVC last year, while SIUE finished sixth, and Tech in 10th. The top six teams make the conference postseason tournament, scheduled to begin on Nov. 7.
SIUE leads the all-time series with the Golden Eagles 2-1-0, but Tech did get the better of them last year with a 1-0 win on Sept. 28. EIU has control of the all-time series with a 15-4-3 mark against TTU, including a 3-2 win in Cookeville on Sep. 30 of last year.