By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech soccer team checked the win column in the home opener, as the Golden Eagles used an early score and a stout defensive effort en route to a 1-0 nod over Liberty Sunday afternoon at Tech Soccer Field.
Yao Giada Zhou powered home a free kick from just outside the box in the 19th minute for her first career goal in what proved to be the difference-maker in Tech's first victory of the year against the defending ASUN Tournament champions.
"Before the game we talked about defending our home and doing whatever we needed to do to come out with a positive result today," TTU head coach Steve Springthorpe said. "A ton of credit goes to our entire team. I thought we defended well, defended hard and just battled out there for the whole game. That is a really good Liberty team over there that that plays the game very well, especially in how they possess the ball. They are a team with a lot of numbers that subs a lot, and on a hot day like it was today, that can always be a challenge. I'm proud of our overall effort. That's a great first win today."
Defensively, the Golden Eagles overcame 10 second-half shots by Liberty (0-2-0), but only three of which were on-point. Overall, Tech (1-1-0) was outshot, 12-3, but made the most of their efforts with all three shots on-goal, highlighted by the Giada Zhou score. Chloe Smith was responsible for the other two attempts on-frame with drives in the 51st and 74th minutes.
"Over the last two games between the contest at Vanderbilt and then today, I thought we were very organized," Springthorpe noted. "As [associate head coach] Corey [Boyd] would always say 'put a shift in' and that's what we did a lot in the second half. You want your team to stay organized and I was happy with how we did that today and our overall commitment to the defensive side of things. Then of course when you have a great, experienced goalkeeper like we do and a back line that is experienced, you can understand why we have the ability to have success defensively."
Senior Isabelle Austin collected three saves on the way to her seventh career shutout and first this season. Liberty split the goalkeeping duties with Randi Palacios playing the first half and allowing one goal with zero stops, while Ainsley Leja posted two halts in the second stanza.
McKinley Burkett posted a match-high four shots. The Lady Flames used 22 players in the contest, while the Golden Eagles had 17 appear. Austin, Selma Askildsen, Sarah Block and Macy Carter played all 90 minutes.
Giada Zhou put the finishing touches on breaking the scoreless deadlock, but it was an initial pass from the San Michele al Tagliamento, Italy native that helped lead to the goal-scoring opportunity. Giada Zhou's through ball to Chloe Smith put Smith in a position to bang it off a Liberty defender resulting in a Tech corner. On the ensuing try, Katelyn Farmer was fouled at the edge of the box, which set up Giada Zhou's free kick and ultimately the game-winning score.
"Yesterday Corey spent some time with some players hitting free kicks, including G [Giada Zhou] among others," Springthorpe said. "She actually decided on her own to take the kick. We were on the bench deciding who we wanted to take it and then we both looked and she was already standing on the ball, so it was like 'alright G is taking it.' And you know what, she stuck it. She hit a good low-driven ball to the keeper's left and tucked it inside the corner. G is committed to making that a part of her game and it showed today."
The Golden Eagles will host the University of Tennessee Thursday night in the second of a season-long three-match homestand. First kick with the Volunteers is slated for 7 p.m. CT. Admission to Tech Soccer Field is free of charge.
Photo by Christian Murphy