The entrance to Tech soccer field was covered with tinsel, and
flyers reading 'Happy New Year' Friday afternoon. Decorating Tech's
bench were more flyers, beads, party hats, streamers, and even
Happy New Year; that is the mentality the Golden Eagle soccer team has heading into Ohio Valley Conference play starting Sunday, when it hosts Jacksonville State.
"If we take the things that we learned from the non-conference, then it's definitely a new year," first year head coach Becky Fletcher said.
After playing six of its first eight games on the road, and dropping five one-goal games, the Golden Eagles take a 1-9 record into the conference season.
"We have a 1-9 record right now going into conference play, but we're 0-0 walking into Sunday. We have a fresh start," Fletcher said. "Our goal is to get to the conference tournament, and get as far as we can in the conference tournament, and that is still a goal of ours, that is still attainable."
The non-conference schedule, which was already in place when Fletcher was hired in February, included early games in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and a trip to Ohio where Tech faced the last three Mid-American Conference champions.
"First we just forget about those games, they're in the past, there's nothing we can do about them," senior Rebecca Ross said. "We've prepared well, and we all know that we're ready for conference play."
Although that tough schedule hasn't helped Tech's record, it has helped the team develop, and prepare them for conference play.
"If you look at where we started, and where we are now, I would take that growth over a win in a couple more games," Fletcher said. "We faced a lot of teams that were as strong or stronger than some team's we'll face in our conference, and our conference is good. We're playing top-level opponents that are getting us ready to play a tough conference schedule day-in and day-out."
Tech's last three games, all one-goal losses, two coming in the final minute, one of which in overtime, have showed that the Golden Eagles are improving, and are ready to move forward and win games.
"Thursday's game was the biggest turning point. Five or six of the girls were in tears after the game, because they had lost," assistant coach Chris Walker said. "They really care about playing well, and winning games, rather than just suiting up, playing soccer, and then moving on."
Now that the conference season has arrived, the Golden Eagles are taking the positives out of the non-conference season, and looking forward to putting those things into action against their OVC opponents.
"We've improved a lot defensively. I think we've come together as a team overall," said Tech senior Brianne Lankford. "There is still a lot of room for improvement, but we're a long way from where we started."
Right now only two of the nine OVC teams boast winning records, with UT Martin at 6-2-1, and Murray State at 5-4-1. Southeast Missouri, who was picked to win the conference, is 0-5-1, while Eastern Illinois, picked third preseason, is 0-9-1. Tech is the only OVC member that hasn't played a conference game.
"The conference as a whole is anybody's ball game," Fletcher said. "It's going to be everybody fighting for everything in conference play."
The Golden Eagles play each conference team once in OVC regular-season play. At seasons end, the top four OVC teams advance to the conference tournament, and have a chance for an NCAA tournament bid. Tech was last in the OVC tournament in 2003.
"It would be a great start for coach Fletcher to make it to the conference tournament in her first year," Lankford said.
The Golden Eagles have a 0-0 record in the new year, and with a new mentality, will control their own destiny throughout conference play.