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COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — With one week of preseason camp under his team’s belt, Tennessee Tech soccer coach Daniel Brizard senses a newfound determination about his squad heading into the 2011 season.
“It’s nice,” says Brizard, who is set to begin his second season at the helm of the Golden Eagles. “At a water break, you walk by the players and they’re talking about what they could have done better in the training session, the good things and the bad things. They’re starting to talk soccer, which is fantastic.”
Tech’s more businesslike approach this preseason can be attributed in part to familiarity. Senior Lindsey Reed joins a class of eight juniors, giving the Golden Eagles a core of upperclassmen who are now familiar with Brizard and his staff.
The other half of the transformation Brizard attributes to hunger on the heels of last season’s 4-12-1 finish.
“We instituted a lot of that in the spring,” he says. “The girls became competitive in the spring, and they want to win. Being picked ninth in the OVC preseason poll kind of sparked them a little more. But I would rather us be picked lower and surprise people. We like the role of the underdog.”
In all, Brizard says his squad is ahead of where he thought they would be this fall as they look toward opening the season Aug. 19 against UT Chattanooga at Tech Soccer Field.
The team was scheduled to travel to Alabama A&M for its one and only exhibition affair of the season on Thursday, but the match was canceled, leaving the Golden Eagles only themselves to compete against prior to hosting the Mocs on Aug. 19 and Belmont on Aug. 21.
For the most part, the team has enjoyed excellent weather throughout the first week of camp. Despite high temperatures and humidity at times, Tech has gotten many of its practice sessions in under overcast morning skies.
Brizard says he has been especially impressed with the play of many of his returnees and suggested experienced players will have a hold on many starting spots early.
“It’s always the returnees’ jobs to keep their roles and the incoming kids to displace them,” he said. “If you’re a quality returnee, you’ve got the leg up. Our returnees, I think, have stepped up their games, and the freshmen are just going to have to find their spots. I think some of them will play a little more than others just out of where we have positions available, but our returnees, I’ve got a lot of respect for them. They came in and were better prepared.”
One thing the coaching staff believes it will be able to do based on early indications in camp is field a deeper squad this season, allowing its most relied-upon players to rest more often during matches.
“We’ve solidified some roles, and we’re still working out a couple of other areas,” Brizard says. “I think the main thing we have found is a good rotation. Hopefully we can get some key players rest that didn’t get rest last year.”
For the duration of camp, Brizard wants his squad to continue to build chemistry, an area in which he says this team is developing nicely, and improve its game fitness.
“The team is starting to police themselves,” he said. “When somebody messes up, they get on that person. They’ve kind of taken it out of my hands, which is nice. I think in that aspect, we’ve progressed really well.”