By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The countdown is nearly over. The Tennessee Tech soccer team will officially be off and running in the 2019 campaign.
The Golden Eagles are set to unwrap the regular season with a pair of weekend clashes as part of the Trojan Classic hosted by Troy University in Troy, Ala. The purple and gold begin the year Friday, Aug. 23 against South Alabama at 4 p.m. CT, before concluding the season-opening tournament with a Sunday meeting against the host Troy at 2 p.m.
Live stats are available for both matches. Click here for Tech's match against South Alabama. Click here for Tech's match against Troy.
A look at Tech
With 18 of the club's 25 members either freshmen or sophomores, the Golden Eagles march into the 2019 campaign with a fair share of youth behind the largest recruiting class of the Steve Springthorpe era with 12 freshmen on the roster. Along with the considerable presence of newcomers on the squad is a series of key returning, veteran members that should help make for an intriguing and talented roster as the purple and gold navigate their way through an 18-match regular-season schedule.
Kaitie Shipley helps highlight Tech's quartet of seniors, entering her swan song campaign after a junior season that saw the Barrie, Ontario native secure a spot on the All-OVC first team. A stalwart on TTU's back line, Shipley joined fellow senior Rachel Blow as the only two Golden Eagles play in each and every minute in 2018.
As far as Blow is concerned, the 5-foot-7 senior out of Boca Raton, Fla. wrapped up her junior season with a career-high six assists, a mark that was good enough for second in the OVC and was the second most by a Golden Eagle in a season since 2007. Nora Vicsek prepares for her final season in purple and gold with seven career goals and 16 career points on her Tech resume. The Budapest, Hungary product's five career game-winning goals puts her in a tie for fourth on the all-time TTU list.
Tina Marolt rounds out Tech's senior class, returning from a season-ending injury that saw the Smatevz, Slovenia native play in only five matches in 2018. Marolt has shown the ability to excel in the midfield, displayed in her 2017 season in which the Louisville transfer was named to the OVC All-Newcomer team with a club-leading four assists in 1,532 minutes of action.
Kendall Powell helps headline Tech's three-member junior class, showing a knack for scoring goals throughout her first two seasons as a Golden Eagle. The Cookeville product finished in a tie for seventh in the OVC with seven goals last year, the most by a Golden Eagle since 2012. Powell's seven career game-winning goals are already tied for second on the program's all-time career list and her hat trick last season at Purdue Fort Wayne made her only the fourth player in school history to register three goals in a match.
From a sophomore perspective, Chloe Smith enters her second season following a freshman campaign that featured an OVC All-Newcomer honor after finishing tied for second on the team with two goals and third on the club with six points. Cassidy Bereda is back for her sophomore campaign after a rookie year in which the Bellbrook, Ohio native was one of seven Golden Eagle to accumulate over 1,000 minutes on the pitch. Bereda collected one goal and one assist.
Kaylee Sunders, a starter in all 17 matches last season as a freshman, provided Tech with a stellar defensive presence throughout the year, playing in 1,561 of a possible 1,573 minutes in 2018.
From a goalkeeper perspective, the Golden Eagles will see a new starter between the pipes following the graduation of Kari Naerdemann, the program's all-time career leader in wins, shutouts, save percentage and goals against average. Red-shirt junior Isabelle Austin, who has been with the program since 2016, will take over the starter duties.
The Sylvania, Ohio native has appeared in one match throughout her TTU stint with 18 minutes last season against North Alabama. Prior to her Tech tenure, Austin excelled in the club ranks for the Greater Toledo Futbol Club (GTFC) Impact in Northwest Ohio. Among the highlights, Austin's final campaign with the club featured a 0.30 goals against average and 19 shutouts in 27 total matches. She helped lead GTFC to a State Cup (Ohio North) championship as well as a pair of finalist appearances.
A look at South Alabama
The Jaguars are coming off an 8-9-2 2018 season, going 5-4-1 in the Sun Belt for a fifth place finish in the 11-team conference. USA knocked off Appalachian State in last year's Sun Belt Conference Tournament quarterfinals, before ultimately bowing out in penalty kicks to top-seeded Texas State in the semifinals.
The Jaguars return four of their top five goal scorers from a season ago, highlighted by sophomore Brenna McPartlan, the 2018 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year that led the club with five goals, four assists and 14 points. South Alabama also returns its starting goalkeeper from last year's squad, senior Justice Stanford, who finished third in the Sun Belt with a .804 save percentage and six shutouts.
The Golden Eagles and Jaguars have met only once in program history, also as part of the Trojan Classic. South Alabama notched a 5-0 nod in 2014.
A look at Troy
The host Trojans put together a 5-14-1 season in 2018, posting a 4-6-0 Sun Belt record to secure the final postseason berth in the conference tournament. Just like South Alabama, Troy's season ended at the hands of top-seeded Texas State, who knocked off the Trojans 1-0 in the tourney's opening round.
Troy is without its leading goal scorer from a year ago, Natalie Melilo, who paced the squad with four goals, six assists and 14 points. The Trojans do bring back sophomore Kendra Cashion, who finished second on last year's group with three goals, two assists and eight points. Troy also returns one of its two goalkeepers that started a match in 2018, welcoming back junior Haleigh Mercer, who started five contests last season and registered a 2.54 goals against average and a .562 save percentage.
The all-time series between the Golden Eagles and Trojans is deadlocked at 2-2-0. Tech claimed a thrilling 2-1 overtime win last season in Cookeville behind a Kendall Powell game-winning goal just over three minutes into the extra session.
Photo by Thomas Corhern