By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A more familiar slate awaits the Tennessee Tech volleyball team this upcoming season, as head coach Jeannette Waldo announced the release of the 2021 schedule for the Golden Eagles Tuesday afternoon.
After enduring an abbreviated campaign in 2020-21 – one played across the months of March and April due to the postponement of all fall sports across the Ohio Valley Conference due to COVID-19 – Tech is set to return to a more traditional slew of matches.
"Above everything, we are elated to be participating in non-conference competition this year," Tech head coach Jeannette Waldo explained. "Since a good chunk of our team has never had a true non-conference experience, it was important for us to schedule aggressively to prepare us for conference play."
Last season, the Golden Eagles fought to a 9-7 record in 16 matches, limited to squaring off with OVC opponents only as part of COVID-19 restrictions and cost-saving measures by the league. While that mark would typically result in a postseason bid, the spring version of the OVC Tournament was reduced to just four teams because of the shortened season and COVID-19 protocols.
Still, there are plenty of positives heading into the new campaign for the Cookeville crew. With nearly the entire 2020-21 squad returning for the 2021 season, the purple and gold look ahead to its next opportunity with momentum on its side.
Tech ended the year on a five-match winning streak, highlighted by back-to-back wins at Murray State during the final stretch. The victories resulted in numerous milestones against its longtime rival, including the team's first back-to-back victories against the Racers since 2008 and 2009 and the first back-to-back road victories at Murray State since 1997 and 1998. The Golden Eagles also capped off the year by securing back-to-back winnings seasons in OVC play for the first time since 2007 and 2008.
"We have had a very positive and productive preseason, " Waldo stated, "and to say that we are excited for this group to take the court together would be an understatement."
With the slew of positivity brewing in Cookeville, Tech will take on a challenging slate in 2021, eager to take the next step under the direction of Coach Waldo and her staff. Unofficially kicking off the year is a short trip to Nashville for an exhibition at Lipscomb on Aug. 20.
The regular season officially begins on the road, with the first of four consecutive tournaments on the books for the purple and gold. Tech will head to Auburn, Ala. for a pair of Aug. 27 match-ups with The Citadel and Jackson State. The first competitive weekend of the year ends with a tilt against Auburn on Aug. 28.
Tech returns home to the comfort of the Hooper Eblen Center for its annual Golden Eagle Invitational the following week, playing host to South Alabama and Valparaiso on Sept. 3. Rounding out the team's first action in front of its home crowd of the year is a single tilt with UNC Asheville on Sept. 4.
"We are hosting a home tournament once again this year, and we hope to have a great fan turnout to cheer on our talented and exciting group," Waldo expressed. "Now that it's easier to support the team in person, we hope to feel the home court love as we have in the past."
The tournament trail continues for purple and gold on Sept. 10 with an in-state affair at Chattanooga kicking off a weekend at the Moc's annual event. Sept. 11 features a pair of matches against Troy and Virginia Tech.
Wrapping up the tournament and non-conference portion of the schedule is a trek to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for Alabama's 2021 event. Tech will first square off against Western Carolina on Sept. 17 before concluding the weekend with contests against Houston and the Crimson Tide on Sept. 18.
OVC play will feature a new look for the 2021 campaign with 10 teams competing in an 18-match marathon. Teams will face each other two times on consecutive days throughout the season, with each team's travel partner featuring a midweek home-and-home setup.
Tech begins the league portion of its schedule with a road trip to Edwardsville, Ill., taking on SIUE on Sept. 24 and 25 to conclude the month. Other road swings on tap for the purple and gold are visits to Murray State (Oct. 15-16), UT Martin (Oct. 29-30), and Belmont (Nov. 12-13).
The team's first look at an OVC opponent at home will come via in-state foe Tennessee State, with matches slated for Oct. 1-2 to kick off a five-match homestand. Tech also welcomes Austin Peay (Oct. 8-9), Southeast Missouri (Oct. 22-23), and Eastern Illinois (Nov. 5-6) during the year.
The purple and gold will also take on reigning OVC champion Morehead State during the season, beginning with a Wednesday, Oct. 6 meeting in Cookeville as part of the team's five-game stretch in the Hoop. Tech returns the trip to Morehead on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Should the Golden Eagles secure one of the top eight spots in the final league standings, the team will qualify for the OVC Tournament, hosted by the regular-season champion from Nov. 18-20.
"This group is special," Waldo added. "I feel like I say that every season, and I always mean it, but this group is closer in a way that will allow them to reach new heights. Watching how they interact and trust one another makes us feel like we have an X-factor this time around that we haven't seen yet in our time here at Tech."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information