By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The 2021 campaign has arrived for the Tennessee Tech soccer team and an early-season test to kick off the year is on the books Thursday night in Nashville. The Golden Eagles will unwrap their fall slate with a trip to Vanderbilt and a battle with the Commodores from Vanderbilt Soccer Complex. First kick is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT.
A look at Tennessee Tech
Thursday night's opener will represent Tech's first non-conference affair in nearly two calendar years after the COVID-19 pandemic shifted things to an OVC-only spring campaign this past February-April. The Golden Eagles last squared off with a non-OVC foe on Sept. 15, 2019 against Lipscomb.
Tech concluded the spring season with a 4-5-1 record, but managed to pace the league in virtually every major defensive category. The Golden Eagles led the conference in goals allowed with just seven scores yielded in 10 matches and the club's league-leading 0.67 goals against average was the third best mark in a single-season in program history.
Returning senior Isabelle Austin secured the OVC's inaugural Goalkeeper of the Year award to go along with a spot on the coveted All-OVC first team. The Sylvania, Ohio native set the conference's single-season save percentage record with a robust .891 mark and finished tied for first in the league with 57 saves.
Austin was one of three Golden Eagles to take home postseason hardware during the spring, with freshmen Selma Askildsen and Meredith Nye securing places on the All-OVC second team and All-OVC Newcomer squads as well. Serving as a key member in Tech's back line, Askildsen joined Emily Carlevato and Macy Carter as the only three TTU field players to not leave the pitch at any point. Nye also played a pivotal role on the defensive side of the equation, while showcasing her offensive prowess as well with a game-winning goal in the spring opener at Austin Peay.
Bailey Taylor and Gabby Garcia led the Golden Eagles with two goals apiece, while Taylor's five points were a club best. Chloe Smith's 32 shots not only paced the purple and gold, but the impressive mark also put the Cincinnati, Ohio product in second in the OVC in that department.
The Golden Eagles were chosen to finish in a tie for fifth in the conference's predicted order of finish.
A look at Vanderbilt
The defending SEC Tournament champs, the Commodores won four matches in the tourney played during the fall en route to the title. The club powered home 14 goals in the four victories, picking up wins over Mississippi State, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Arkansas.
Having already played its SEC slate during the fall, Vandy posted a 3-1-1 spring campaign, squaring off solely against non-conference competition during the stretch. The Commodores were tripped up in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in May, falling 2-0 to No. 9 Penn State. Overall, Vanderbilt finished with a 9-6-1 record, going 8-4-0 in the SEC.
The Commodores lost their leading goal scorer in Haley Hopkins, who split the pipes seven times in 15 matches, but do return their second-leading scorer in Reagan Kelley. The senior midfielder found the back of the net five times, and her 10 points were also good enough for a tie for second on the squad.
Vanderbilt's starting goalkeeper Sarah Fuller is no longer in the mix, but the club does bring back the other two Commodores that spent time between the pipes in Sophie Guilmette and Kate Devine. Guilmette played in four matches and allowed six goals with seven saves, while Devine surrendered two goals and collected nine stops.
Inside the series
Vanderbilt is a perfect 5-0-0 in the all-time series. The two clubs last met in the season opener in 2017, a 1-0 overtime nod for the Commodores on Aug. 18 in Nashville.
Photo by Thomas Corhern