By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A full fall campaign is in the cards for the Tennessee Tech soccer team, and as the start of the 2021 season sits less than a month away, the Golden Eagles and head coach Steve Springthorpe have announced the club's upcoming slate.
16 total regular-season matches, a pair of home exhibition affairs, eight OVC contests and a slew of challenging non-conference tilts all highlight what promises to be an intriguing fall for the purple and gold.
The three-month voyage kicks off with back-to-back home exhibition matches with an Aug. 8 affair against North Alabama and an Aug. 12 clash with Middle Tennessee. Following a season-opening matchup with SEC foe Vanderbilt on Aug. 19, the Golden Eagles will prepare for their longest homestand of 2021 with hookups against Liberty on Aug. 22, the University of Tennessee on Aug. 26 and Chattanooga on Aug. 29.
"The first thing that comes to mind when you look at our schedule is that it's certainly hard," TTU head coach Steve Springthorpe said. "Honestly I think it's probably the most challenging schedule that we have played since I have been here and maybe even before then for the program. Most of the non-conference teams we play have been top teams in their leagues, have won conference championships in the last couple of years and have made the NCAA Tournament recently. It's very challenging.
"There were a few factors that went into building the non-conference portion of the schedule," Springthorpe continued. "Getting prepared for OVC play is something we always try and aim toward, but then it was also in response to what we have gone through the last year and a half COVID wise, so there was an emphasis on trying to stay relatively local. We are playing some teams that we haven't played in the regular-season part of our schedule recently, but overall, we are excited about the prospects of being able to play a full fall season after everything that has happened over the last year and a half. Of course, we hope that everything stays on track, but I know our team is definitely looking forward for the chance to play a full fall campaign and we are confident that this schedule will help us for what we will face in the OVC."
Two of Tech's first three tangles are with members of the SEC in Vanderbilt and UT, while the match sandwiched in between features a Liberty squad that is coming off an Atlantic Sun Conference championship and berth to the NCAA Tournament in the spring of 2020. The contest with Tennessee will mark just the third time in program history in which an SEC school has traveled to Cookeville for a regular-season match. TTU's last battle with the vaunted Southeastern Conference was a 2-1 win over Alabama on Aug. 30, 2015. The Golden Eagles were also bested by Vanderbilt on Sept. 7, 2008.
"We were actually supposed to have Tennessee in here for a game a few years ago, but it ended up being rained out," Springthorpe noted. "They were kind enough to decide to come back and play that game here in Cookeville. I'm hoping it will be a great night with a ton of fan support. Really that game is one of many at home that has a regional theme to it. Teams from our state like MTSU, Chattanooga and Belmont are all coming in. Samford is another club that isn't too far away that has had a lot of recent success. I think having those kinds of schools come in for home games should make for some great crowds like they have done in the past."
After the club's home tilt with Chattanooga on Aug. 29, the Golden Eagles embark on an imposing two-match road swing that will see the purple and gold face Western Kentucky on Sept. 3 and Xavier on Sept. 5. WKU is coming off an 8-2-2 2020 spring season, while Xavier's last full fall season in 2019 featured a 17-4-2 overall record and a win in the NCAA Tournament over Virginia Tech.
Tech's final two non-conference clashes will see the Golden Eagles host Samford on Sept. 9, before the purple and gold head to Johnson City to connect with ETSU on Sept. 17.
The OVC portion of the schedule will have a different look and feel to it in 2021 as the conference has shifted from the traditional playing matches on Friday and Sunday to a new-look format of now playing on Thursdays and Sundays. The first of the eight-match journey will feature a matchup with the defending OVC Tournament champ, SIUE, who comes to Cookeville for a Sept. 26 battle. Tech's affair with the Cougars is one of three Sunday home contests against OVC competition, with matches against Belmont on Oct. 3 and EIU on Oct. 10 also in the mix. TTU's lone Thursday home OVC tilt is Oct. 21 against Murray State in what will serve as the final home match of the season.
The club's road conference contests are against Morehead State on Sept. 30, UT Martin on Oct. 7, Austin Peay on Oct. 14 and Southeast Missouri in the regular-season finale on Oct. 24.
"For the last few years we were on a rotating schedule based on the number of teams in the conference, so you always had one of the teams in the league playing the Thursday-Sunday format while everyone else in the conference played on Fridays and Sundays," Springthorpe said. "Now that it's a straight Thursday-Sunday format for everyone, I think that's a good thing. It's positive in terms of getting the chance for rest in between games. If you look across the country that's what most teams and conferences are doing and it's shown to be a plus for player recovery. There are some potential challenges to the new format in regards to training time, but overall I think having an extra day in between games will be a positive."
Back to its traditional eight-team format, the OVC Tournament is set to begin with first-round action on Oct. 29. Second-round matches will take place on Oct. 31, while the semifinals are set for Nov. 5 and the championship match will take place on Nov. 7.
Admission to all regular season home matches at Tech Soccer Field is free of charge.
Photo by Jim Dillon