By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A program record and league-leading 10 Ohio Valley Conference postseason honors highlighted the night for the Tennessee Tech soccer team, as the Golden Eagles cleaned house during Thursday night's OVC Championship banquet. Hosted by the purple and gold in Roaden University Center's Multipurpose Room by virtue of Tech claiming the regular-season title and No. 1 seed in the OVC Tournament, the Golden Eagles took home three first-team selections, two second-team accolades, three All-Newcomer distinctions and two of the conference's most prestigious awards behind a pair of "Of the Year" honors.
Yao Giada Zhou was recognized as the OVC Midfielder of the Year and Steve Springthorpe claimed the conference's Coach of the Year accolade to help headline TTU's 10 awards. Giada Zhou joined Chloe Smith and Emily Carlevato on the league's first-team list, while Katie Toney and Meredith Nye secured spots on the All-OVC second-team. Toney accompanied Maggie Conrad and Allison Lee on the OVC All-Newcomer squad to round out Tech's huge haul.
TTU's trio on the All-OVC first-team ledger makes it an eighth-straight season in which a Golden Eagle reserved a spot on the first team to extend an already program record for consecutive campaigns with at least one first-team honor. Furthermore, the three Golden Eagles on top tier represents the sixth time in program history, and only third occurrence since 2002, in which TTU has placed a trio of All-OVC first teamers in the same season.
"I'm excited for our players and for our team after a night like tonight," Tech head coach Steve Springthorpe said. "Any time you have this many players recognized like we had this year, it's a lot of people that make those sorts of accomplishments possible. If you don't have success as a team then awards like the ones we received tonight aren't really possible. I'm happy for our players that were honored, but they also know that the ultimate goal is to win a conference championship and are aware that it takes an entire team to accomplish something of that magnitude. Ultimately, all of those that were recognized are well deserving and they all had special performances this season. We are appreciative of the head coaches and sports information personnel that votes on these honors."
An award that started during the 2020-21 spring campaign, Giada Zhou becomes the first Golden Eagle to capture the OVC Midfielder of the Year accolade. The San Michele al Tagliamento, Italy native's honor marks the fifth time in the last eight seasons in which a Golden Eagle has seized a "Player of the Year" distinction.
"Giada really had a great year for us," Springthorpe noted. "We knew she was good when she first arrived at our program, but I think heading into this year she came back focused and determined right from the get to. From day one of practice Giada solidified herself as a player that was going to be vital to our team and how we play. The high quality of her play was showcased for the majority of the year, including during non-conference action, but certainly during OVC play she made things happen for us and had an outstanding year. Giada has a lot of the statistics this year, but it's how she plays that makes a difference for us and I think a lot of people around the conference understand that."
Giada Zhou tied teammate Chloe Smith for the most assists in the OVC with six. The 5-foot-3 midfielder added two goals as well, both game-winning strikes thanks to a score in a 3-1 win at Middle Tennessee on Sept. 8 and a goal in a critical 2-0 nod over SIUE on Oct. 6. Giada Zhou also finished in a tie for seventh in the league with 32 shots, averaging 2.13 attempts per affair.
Springthorpe's Coach of the Year distinction makes him just the second-ever Tech head coach to claim the honor, joining Qasim Sheikh who seized the first ever OVC Coach of the Year accolade back in 1998. The program leader in career victories, Springthorpe guided the Golden Eagles to the program's second-ever regular-season title and first since capturing the 1998 crown. The ninth-year head coach led the purple and gold to the OVC's first undefeated conference campaign since 2018 and helped TTU's first-ever appearance as hosts of the OVC Tournament semifinals and championship match by virtue of the club's No. 1 seed.
"What this award means to me is that the team did extremely well this year," Springthorpe said. "If the team didn't have kind of year we did, then obviously this honor doesn't happen. All the credit goes to our players in our program, who from the very first day of the conference season had the desire to be successful and to try and win a championship. We were able to find a way to get on a roll and I think my job was to make sure to not mess it up and let them just play.
"I am very thankful that I was voted Coach of the Year, but to me it's really a staff and a team award," Springthorpe continued. "I would be doing a disservice if I did not say [Associate Head Coach] Corey [Boyd] is a huge part of this and I wish the award was a Coaching Staff of the Year honor, which is the case in some other conferences and on the national level. This would not have happened without Corey. He is a massive part of our program and has been even before I got here. He is a fantastic associate head coach and deserves more of the credit than I do by having my name on it. I share this honor with him and am proud of everything Corey does for our program."
Chloe Smith's impressive swan-song campaign netted the Cincinnati, Ohio product her second-consecutive All-OVC first-team selection after leading the OVC in points with 18. The senior forward split the pipes six times to rank second in the league and tied Giada Zhou for the most assists in the OVC with six. Smith's 38 shots were also second-most in the OVC, highlighted by a conference best 26 tries during league action.
"I'm glad Chloe was able to follow up last year's first-team selection with another first-team accolade this year," Springthorpe commented. "She had a breakout season last year, and as a coach you always hope that players can find it in them to rise to an even higher level and Chloe without a doubt did that this season. She led our team in many statistical categories and is a huge threat for us on the offensive side. It's great that she was recognized in her fifth year as one of the best attacking players in our conference. I'm happy for Chloe."
Smith turned it up down the stretch run of Tech's title-winning campaign that featured at least one point recorded in four of the final five matches of the regular season for the senior. The 5-foot-8 forward scored two goals and added three assists during the late-season surge.
Emily Carlevato's first career postseason accolade comes on the heels of a stellar regular season that saw the Knoxville, Tenn. native help anchor a Golden Eagle defense that pitched six shutouts in eight OVC tangles. Carlevato played in 1,426 minutes of a possible 1,440 minutes on the year, including not leaving the pitch at any point during OVC play.
"Emily has been a player that over the last few seasons has just become better and better for us," Springthorpe said. "She really has become a consistent and reliable performer and did a great job in helping stabilize our back line. Emily had a fantastic year and grew into her leadership responsibilities throughout the course of the season. As we went on, she was up to the challenge of being a player that we could count on to come up in the clutch for us in a number of ways. As a whole I think we have a strong group of defenders, who played really well in conference play in denying opportunities on-goal, and Emily has been a huge part of that. It's a great honor for her and we are happy that she was recognized."
Offensively, the 5-foot-8 senior scored her second career goal and picked up her first two career assists. Carlevato powered one into the back of the net in a 4-0 win at Southern Indiana on Sept. 22 to go along with assists in wins at Middle Tennessee on Sept. 8 and over Southeast Missouri on Oct. 16.
Katie Toney's recognition on both the All-OVC second team and OVC All-Newcomer team is well warranted after the TTU freshman put together a strong rookie campaign that featured three goals, three assists and nine points to rank inside the top 10 in the conference in all three categories. All three of Toney's assists occurred during league action to tie teammate Chloe Smith and SEMO's Faith Liljegren for the most assists during conference play.
"We knew when we were recruiting Katie the type of player she could be and to come in and have this type of season as a freshman is special," Springthorpe claimed. "I think she has embraced playing at the collegiate level and Katie's work ethic is top notch. She is aggressive on the attack, and with the type of things she can do on the field, it's hard to not take notice. Katie has put up the numbers this year, but more than that, she has been able to give us a balance on the other side of Chloe. Both are very aggressive players with the ability to get forward and you can't underestimate her impact on our offensive success this year. Katie absolutely deserves these two honors and I am happy for her as well as excited for what she can do in the future."
The McMinnville, Tenn. product turned it on during the final stages of the regular season, helping lead Tech to a title with at least one point recorded in three of the final four matches. Toney tacked on a key goal in a 2-0 victory over SIUE on Oct. 6, registered an assist in TTU's 3-0 win over SEMO on Oct. 16 and split the pipes in a 2-2 draw at Little Rock in the regular-season finale on Oct. 23.
Meredith Nye joins Karigan Owens (2014-17) as the only Golden Eagles to earn second-team All-OVC accolades in three consecutive seasons after this distinction in 2022. The Jackson, Tenn. native appeared in all but 14 minutes during TTU's OVC slate and played a pivotal part in a Golden Eagle defensive unit that allowed only four scores during league action to tie for the fewest goals yielded in OVC play.
"We are happy that Meredith made an all-conference team for the third year in a row," Springthorpe said. "She is just super stable at the midfield position and does a lot of work for our team that maybe doesn't always get completely recognized, but without her contributions we would look like a different team. Meredith brings so much to the table with her ability to win the ball and is a force to be reckoned with as a player who is physical. She is the kind of presence you need in the midfield and does what it takes to help other players out from an attacking perspective. I think the coaches around the league recognize again how important Meredith is to our program and she is very deserving of this accolade."
Offensively, Nye added a pair of goals with scores at Chattanooga on Sept. 1 and at UT Martin on Oct. 2. The 5-foot-6 junior's net-finder in the Scenic City on Sept. 1 saw Nye dramatically split the pipes in the 86th minute to bring Tech back from a 1-0 deficit and ultimately push the purple and gold to a 1-1 draw.
Maggie Conrad's selection on the OVC All-Newcomer team is well deserved after finishing tied for first in the conference with a miniscule 0.50 goals against average during league matches. In her first season as the Tech keeper, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa product collected clean sheets in six of eight conference clashes and surrendered just four goals total during TTU's league ledger.
"Maggie had the chance to sit behind a great goalkeeper in Izzie [Austin] last year and I think every day she has kept improving from the very start of the season," Springthorpe said. "She has learned to become more consistent, and although she may not be seeing as many shots with how our defense has performed in front of her, Maggie has handled everything a goalkeeper faces in a mature manner and has developed into a strong player at that position. She has the statistics to back what we see out of Maggie on an everyday basis and has been a huge part of our defense and our overall success this year."
Allison Lee rounds out Tech's impressive haul with an OVC All-Newcomer accolade, accompanying Toney and Conrad on the list to give the Golden Eagles three All-Newcomer honors in the same season for the first time in program history. The Powell, Tenn. native finished off her rookie regular season with three goals and two assists, picking up scores against Furman on Aug. 25, Southern Indiana on Sept. 22 and the game-winning strike against SEMO on Oct. 16. Lee also notched assists in wins over Southern Indiana and Morehead State in a match that officially clinched Tech's second-ever OVC regular-season title.
"Allison has had just a great year for us," Springthorpe said. "When we recruited her, we knew she brought certain elements to our team, but I think she has been a bit of a surprise with how quickly she transitioned her game to the collegiate level. She's a lot like Katie Toney in terms of being a high work ethic kind of player who just goes and goes and goes. Allison is not afraid of being physical and came up big for us in finding goals and assists in key moments throughout the season. She has really helped elevate our midfield to an even higher level then we thought coming into the year. It has been really awesome to see Allison capitalize on her opportunity this year and run with it. She is a great player with a bright future in our program."
As the top seed in the OVC Tournament, the Golden Eagles will host the semifinals and the championship match at Tech Soccer Field for the first time in program history. TTU will entertain fifth-seeded Lindenwood on Friday at 4 p.m. CT. The Golden Eagles and Lions played to a scoreless draw in Cookeville on Sept. 25. The championship match is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. Admission to Tech Soccer Field is free of charge.
Photo by Thomas Corhern