By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The wait is over. The playoffs are here.
The Tennessee Tech soccer team is back in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament's final four, heading to the semifinals for the third-straight year. The second-seeded Golden Eagles will connect with No. 3 Eastern Kentucky in a Friday morning showdown at Murray State's Cutchin Field, site of the OVC Tournament for the third-consecutive season after the Racers captured the regular season crown. First kick with the Colonels is slated for 11 a.m. CT.
The TTU-EKU winner will advance to Sunday's championship match against the victor of No. 1 Murray State and No. 5 Southeast Missouri, the second semifinal clash, which is scheduled to begin Friday at 2 p.m.
The entire OVC Tournament's final four will be broadcast live on the OVC Digital Network. Click here to watch.
The Golden Eagles (9-4-3, 6-1-3 OVC) head into the semifinals scorching, behind a nine-match unbeaten streak that most recently featured a 1-0 win over UT Martin on Oct. 22 that clinched the No. 2 seed in the OVC Tournament, and in the process, a double-bye straight to the semifinals.
Tech's second-place finish in the regular season marked the program's first third-straight, top-three finish since a span of four in a row from 1998-2001. TTU's third-consecutive semifinals appearance makes it just the second time in school history in which the Golden Eagles have made it to the conference tourney's final four in three-straight years, with the other occurrence coming back during a stretch of five-consecutive years from 1999-2003.
Paced by the league's top defense, Tech tied a ribbon on the regular season with a program record five-straight shutouts, and did not allow a goal in the final 577 minutes dating back to Oct. 1, the longest streak in school history. The Golden Eagles lead the conference with only seven goals surrendered, a 0.42 goals against average and 10 shutouts.
With her latest blanking in the regular season finale on Oct. 22, Kari Naerdemann tied the OVC's career record of 28 shutouts. The Herne, Germany native also collected her 28th career victory to tie Tech's Carly King (2001-04) for the most wins in program history. Naerdemann leads the conference with a .896 save percentage.
Offensively, freshman Kendall Powell ended the regular season as Tech's leading scorer with four goals and 10 points. Senior Karigan Owens paces the Golden Eagles with four assists, all coming within the last seven contests.
Eastern Kentucky is back in the OVC Tournament semifinals for the second-straight season after slipping past defending conference tourney champion, No. 7 SIUE, 2-1, in Sunday's second round. The Colonels (10-4-4, 6-1-3 OVC) got off to a rapid start thanks to a Jordan Foster sixth-minute score, but the Cougars responded with the equalizer in the 35th minute.
Squared away at 1-1, freshman Katie Shaffer scored her first career goal in the final minute of the first half, which proved to be the difference in EKU's narrow victory.
Senior Jordan Foster is tied for fifth in the OVC with a team-leading five goals, while the 5-foot-7 forward's 17 points are good enough for a sixth-place tie in the league. Fellow senior Emmi Carroll is also in the top ten in the conference with six goals scored this year.
Senior Anna Hall has played each and every minute between the pipes this season. The Ross, Ohio native has yielded 20 goals and made 65 saves for a .765 save percentage.
Tech bested the Colonels, 2-0, in the regular season meeting in Cookeville on Oct. 15. Karigan Owens registered three points on the afternoon with a goal and an assist, while junior Molly Kafader scored her first career goal to get TTU going just over six minutes into the match. EKU produced just one shot on-goal in the contest.
With the win, the Golden Eagles cut the Colonels' all-time series lead to 9-5. Eastern Kentucky knocked TTU out of the postseason last year in a tilt that needed a shootout to decide a winner.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information