By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was worth the wait for the Tennessee Tech soccer team.
After their originally scheduled match against Belmont was postponed due to inclement weather, the Golden Eagles found themselves back in Cookeville for the first time in 18 days and took full advantage of the chance to play in front of the home crowd again.
Behind the first career goals by a pair of freshmen, and a season-high 10 saves from Kari Naerdemann, Tech collected a 2-0 victory over the Bruins to snap a three-match slide. The win extends TTU's conference unbeaten streak at home to 14 in a row, with 13 wins and one draw mixed in over a stretch that dates back to the 2015 campaign.
"It's good to play at home, we like playing here and had an opportunity to do that tonight and I thought our team battled and deservedly won the game," Tech head coach Steve Springthorpe said. "We did exactly what we wanted to do from a defending perspective and took care of the dangerous parts of Belmont's team. I was happy with the overall effort from our team tonight."
Freshman Chloe Smith unwrapped the scoring for the Golden Eagles (6-6-0, 2-3-0 OVC) with a goal in the 13th minute for the Cincinnati, Ohio native's first career score. Senior Molly Kafader started the offensive action with a feed to freshman Cassidy Bereda that saw the Tech rookie connect with Smith, who took care of the rest with a strike from the left wing that split the pipes. Kafader and Bereda both notched assists on the play.
"Chloe took her opportunity well, got around the outside, cut it back and finished," Springthorpe said, reflecting on Smith's net-finder. "Chloe's played well this year as a freshman. She is getting a lot of time and experience and I know she's excited about her goal and the team is excited too. It got us started relatively early in the match."
Haylee Koger wasted no time in doubling up the TTU margin in the second half, scoring a mere 1:47 into the second stanza to push the Golden Eagle edge to 2-0. Playing in only her second collegiate match, Koger captured her first career goal off of a corner kick that featured a missile from the Bardstown, Ky. product just outside that box that snuck under the cross bar and inside the far post. Rachel Blow, who took the corner and fed Koger through traffic, was credited with an assist on the pass.
"Haylee has had some early season injuries and has worked herself back into playing," Springthorpe noted. "She got an opportunity and tonight off of a corner that came out to her, she did what she's supposed to do in that spot which was awesome. She knew where she was supposed to be and the ball came to her and she tucked it inside the upper corner. It was a great goal for her and I know our whole team is excited for Haylee in a goal that pretty much sealed it for us."
Kari Naerdemann boasted a season-best 10 saves, only the third time in her sparkling career that the Herne, Germany native has recorded double-digit stops in a match and first time since 12 halts at UNC Greensboro Aug. 21, 2016.
"Kari was solid back there and played well tonight," Springthorpe said. "10 saves seems like a lot, but the reality is a lot of those saves were shots from 30, 35 yards out that just kind of came to her. What I'm happy about for Kari is that she was aggressive tonight and came out for a number of balls. She got whacked a couple of times, but kept challenging and showed her senior leadership tonight. As an all-conference player and a senior, she did what we've come to expect out of her."
Belmont (4-5-2, 2-2-1 OVC) outshot the Golden Eagles 19-8, with Julie Garst producing a match-high five tries. Molly Kafader led the Tech charge with three shots, two of which were on-goal.
Lily Herman logged three saves and surrendered two goals in 90 minutes between the pipes.
The Golden Eagles will stay at home for a Friday, Oct. 5 battle with Southeast Missouri. First kick with the Redhawks is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT. Admission is free of charge.
Photo by Thomas Corhern