By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech soccer team made a splash during February's National Letter of Intent Signing Day, as the Golden Eagles and head coach Steve Springthorpe bolstered an already promising group of newcomers with the additions of four incoming freshmen to join the purple and gold for the 2022 season.
Sophia Grueninger, Dalis Hawkins, Taylor Jones and Allison Lee will be the latest to join the Golden Eagle ranks, helping to strengthen a TTU squad that is fresh off a trip to the OVC Tournament semifinals in 2021, the program's fourth appearance in the last seven campaigns. The quartet of incoming freshmen join Reagan Smiley, Katie Toney and Jaiden Weston to help make up the newest group of Golden Eagles, who were all already added to the TTU club during November's National Letter of Intent Signing Day.
"This group of four, combined with the other three players that signed last November, makes for an overall great addition to the new makeup of our team heading into next year," Tech head coach Steve Springthorpe said. "We graduated quite a few players from a season ago, so we were in a position where we needed a little bit of a larger class and I think finding these four players a slightly later in the recruiting cycle is definitely going to help our team. All four are talented in their own right in regards to what they can do, the skills they possess and the positions that they play. Each one of them has the capability to fill some needs we have within our program and we are certainly excited about the overall makeup and talent level of this class."
An All-State performer during her days at North Central High School in Indianapolis, Ind., Sophia Grueninger (pictured left)comes to Cookeville after excelling as a defender and midfielder throughout her prep tenure. A four-year varsity starter and team captain, Grueninger helped pace North Central to a pair of county championships on her way to a high-school career that featured 18 goals and 28 assists despite suiting up primarily as a defender.
"We have been in search to increase the depth of our back line after graduating one starting player off this past year's team, and overall we have been relatively thin at the center back position," Springthorpe noted. "Adding Sophia into the mix will help us out in that area as well as give us more versatility from a defensive perspective. She can play as a center back, but can also play as a defensive midfielder. Sophia has good size, can win the ball in the air, has a good understanding of the game and has a strong skill set when it comes to playing possession soccer. I am confident in her ability to help us right away."
Grueninger took home a pair of All-State and All-County honors to go along with a sturdy off-field resume that features a spot on the National Honor Society, a member of her high school's honor roll, a winner of the Linda Lawrence Vision of the Future award as well as graduating in the top five percent of her class.
A two-sport athlete that also shined on the track, Dalis Hawkins (pictured right) will throw on the purple and gold in the fall on the heels of a strong high school and club soccer career. Hawkins, who started her high-school stint at White Station High School before heading to Briarcrest Christian for her final two years, was named to the All-Metro team, the Division II-AA West All-Region team and earned the Captains Award in 2021.
On the pitch, the Memphis product helped guide her team to a Division 2AA West Region championship in 2021 to go along with a pair of TSSAA Division I Class AAA District titles in 2018 and 2019. On the track, Hawkins flourished to the tune of a Region championship in the 100m, 200m, 4X100 relay and 4X200 relay. Off the pitch and track, the 5-foot-3 incoming freshman was a member of the Honor Roll and Principals List.
"Dalis is a dynamic athlete who will bring a defensive mentality to our back line," Springthorpe said. "She is a great athlete that brings a high level of speed and strength to the table. I expect her to challenge for playing time right away as an outside back. We are definitely looking forward to Dalis joining our team next fall."
As far as the club ranks are concerned, Hawkins suited up as a defender for the 2004 Lobos Rush Premier team and helped her squad to the DI TN State championship in 2021, a Mid-South Conference U17 Division title in 2020-21 and the Dallas International Girls Cup Champion U17 Division in 2021.
A four-year letter winner while at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tenn., Taylor Jones (pictured left) joins Tennessee Tech following a star-studded high-school tenure highlighted by an ability to find the back of net. Jones scored 55 goals and 37 assists in four years, which included a 17-goal, 17-assist senior season in which she helped guide her squad to both a District and Region championship for third consecutive season.
Individually, Jones was honored as a three-time All-District performer, a two-time All-Region player, a team Midfield MVP and the District Midfielder of the Year as a junior. As far as the club circuit is concerned, the Johnson City, Tenn. native suited up for FC Alliance ECNL.
"In addition to a strong high school career, Taylor comes from a great club out of the Knoxville area and will be able to play a role for us in the attacking side of the game," Springthorpe commented. "If you look at the direction of our team from the attacking piece of it, we are coming off a stronger season where we scored some more goals and showed continued improvement in that area. Taylor will only make us better and has the ability to create scoring opportunities on her own. She is a good athlete that can play as a back to goal player, can create shots and knows how to link other players together. I expect Taylor to help us right away."
Stacked with an impressive high-school resume while at Grace Christian Academy in Knoxville, Tenn., Allison Lee (pictured right) wrapped up her career as an All-State player, a four-time All-District performer, a two-time District MVP and a two-time District Offensive Player of the Year. As a freshman, Lee split the pipes 23 times and as a senior she collected 19 scores to go along with seven assists.
A four-year letter winner, Lee helped pace her team to a 2018 District championship. A teammate of fellow incoming freshman Taylor Jones, she also was a member of FC Alliance ECNL. Academically, Lee reserved a spot on both the National Honors Society and the National Spanish Honors Society.
"We are excited about the addition of Allison and everything she brings to the table, especially from an attacking midfielder perspective," Springthorpe said. "Our team over the last year hasn't had a whole lot of depth at the attacking midfield position, and outside of Yao Giada Zhou, we haven't really had a true attacking midfielder. We have moved other players to that spot, and while they have performed at a nice level, they are typically suited to play other positions. Allison can certainly fill this role for us and does a lot of things well out there. She is a good athlete that plays well with the ball at her feet and does a great job of getting forward with it. I think the hope is that Allison can play alongside Giada and give us some depth and a different look at that position."
Photo by Jim Dillon