By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Sitting just two wins away from the Tennessee Tech soccer team's second-ever OVC Tournament title, the fifth-seeded Golden Eagles head to top-seeded UT Martin for a Friday afternoon clash in the semifinals of the postseason tourney. First kick from Skyhawk Soccer Field in Martin, Tenn. is slated for 4 p.m. CT.
A look at No. 5 Tennessee Tech
Playing in their fourth OVC Tournament semifinal in the last seven seasons, the Golden Eagles (6-5-4) enter Friday's playoff battle as the hottest team in the league, currently riding an eight-match unbeaten streak for the program's second-longest unblemished stretch in program history. The 2017 version of the purple and gold ended the regular season on a nine-match unbeaten streak.
The Golden Eagles have not lost a match since the calendar flipped to October, posting a 5-0-3 mark throughout the scorching stretch. TTU is in Friday's semifinal against the No. 1 overall seed by virtue of back-to-back wins in the first two rounds of the OVC Tournament, first topping No. 8 EIU 1-0 in the first round of the tournament, before handing No. 4 Murray State only its second home loss of the year behind a thrilling 2-1 win in Sunday's quarterfinal against the Racers.
Trailing 1-0 late in regulation, Murray State provided the equalizer in the 86th minute, nearly guaranteeing overtime with both club's seasons at stake. Despite the setback with the score now fresh at 1-1, the Golden Eagles made sure that there would be no extra session in the waning moments of regulation.
With possession at her shoe tops and a pair of Racers converging on her at the edge of the box, Chloe Smith's nifty move landed the 5-foot-8 junior inside the box. As she attempted to navigate toward a potential goal-scoring opportunity, Murray State's defense tripped her up which led to a penalty kick in the 89th minute.
Meredith Nye took the ensuing try and buried it to send Tech to the semifinals. The score also propelled the purple and gold to its second playoff win, tying the 2000 and 2009 teams as the only three Golden Eagle clubs to win two postseason matches in a single season.
Nye's game-winning net-finder was one of three goals this season for the 5-foot-6 midfielder. Chloe Smith leads the Golden Eagles with four goals, four assists and 12 points. Gabby Garcia, who scored the game-winning goal early in the second half in Tech's 1-0 nod over EIU in the first round of the OVC Tournament, and Bailey Taylor have both split the pipes twice this season.
Smith headlined Tech's quartet of Golden Eagles who claimed All-OVC accolades behind a first-team honor, the seventh-straight season in which TTU has featured at least one player on the first-team list. Nye and Selma Askildsen took down All-OVC second-team awards, each earning the distinction for the second-straight season, while Emily Payne was named to the OVC All-Newcomer squad.
The Golden Eagles have not been to the OVC Tournament championship match since 2009. Tech's lone tourney title came back in 2000.
A look at No. 1 UT Martin
The top seed in the OVC Tournament, the Skyhawks (10-5-1, 6-2-0 OVC) collected a share of the regular-season title with SIUE, but claimed the No. 1 seed, a double-bye and hosting rights in the semifinals by virtue of a 1-0 nod over the Cougars on Oct. 10. UTM's regular-season crown is the club's second in the last four years after capturing the title in 2018. The Skyhawks have won two OVC Tournaments with championships in back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012.
This year's UT Martin team has flashed a sturdy defense that leads the league in goals allowed with 15 in 16 matches and goals against average behind a 0.91 mark. Kamryn Chappell was named the OVC Defensive Player of the Year and was one of two Skyhawks who was named an All-OVC first-teamer, along with Parker Gelinas. Gelinas was also honored as the league's Freshman of the Year. The club's goalkeeper Erica Myers took home All-OVC second-team recognition after leading the conference in both goals against average at 0.84 and save percentage at .809.
Midfielder Izzy Patterson and forward Makayla Robinson were named to the All-OVC second team and Skyhawk head coach Phil McNamara was recognized as the conference's Coach of the Year.
Offensively, the Skyhawks are third in the conference in goals thanks to 26 in 16 matches. Jill Hildreth and Emily van der Vliet lead the squad with six scores apiece, tied for third-most in the OVC.
Inside the series
UT Martin leads the all-time series 14-11-1, but the Golden Eagles were one of just two OVC teams that secured a win over the Skyhawks this year. Tech erased a 1-0 second-half deficit in an eventual 2-1 double overtime victory at UTM on Oct. 7. Bailey Taylor squared the score in the 70th minute, before Gabby Garcia provided the winner less than two minutes before the match would have ended in a draw.
The Skyhawks entered the contest 3-0-0 in the OVC and Tech's dramatic win marked the only time in eight conference affairs that UTM let up more than one goal against a league foe.
Photo courtesy of Dave Winder, Murray State Athletics