Tech soccer optimistic, set for season-opening weekend homestand

Golden Eagles host Chattanooga Friday, Belmont Sunday

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — After an encouraging preseason camp, the Tennessee Tech soccer team will find out how it stacks up against Division I competition in a season-opening homestand this weekend.

The Golden Eagles begin their quest to rebound from last season’s four-win campaign when they host Chattanooga at 4 p.m. Friday and Belmont at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Both matches will serve as measuring sticks for second-year head coach Daniel Brizard, who says his team is still developing its style.

 “We just want to see if we can play our style of play, see if we can control the game the way we want to and not worry about the other team so much,” Brizard says. “The way we play is important, and going into these first couple of games, we’re going to figure out what works for us and hopefully get a lineup and a rotation that will work.”

Friday’s home opener will also serve as an opportunity for the Golden Eagles to show off facility upgrades that include a new scoreboard and new bleacher seating on the west side of the field designed to enhance fan experience on sunny afternoons.

As for the product on the field, Brizard says his team has set high expectations and is ready to redeem its 2010 performance.

“I think we are ahead of where we were this time last year,” he said. “The girls have stepped it up in their offseason workouts and really come into camp prepared. I think they are realizing they are better than what they showed last year. They want to know they can compete and play against anybody in the country.”

For Tech, which ranked near the bottom of the Ohio Valley Conference in offense last season, putting more goals on the board is a top priority, and something Brizard believes his team is equipped to do behind forwards Andrea Meloff and Ellie Iaciofano, as well as Sarah Gawthrop.

“Ellie and Andi have both stepped up and come into camp determined to score some goals,” he said. “They made a commitment over the summer to get us on the scoreboard. Sarah is also going to help our offense, hopefully in the form of assists.”

Others who made a particularly strong impression on the coaching staff over the course of camp include Kris Cambron, who played for a Women’s Premier Soccer League club over the summer, and goalkeeper Becca Toler, who tried out for and made the USA Deaf Soccer Women’s Team.

Several newcomers may make an immediate impact for the Golden Eagles, including Chelsea Ladd, who Brizard says is in line for a starting position as a holding midfielder. Freshman Brooklyn Kimball has also impressed the staff with her versatility during camp while Katie Phillips should also see time at a holding mid position.

Brizard also mentioned returning All-OVC second team selection Kerri Reid, midfielder Jacquie Watkins and the team’s back line, which includes Taylor Hicks, Lindsey Reed, Leigh Heffner and Julie Thompson as integral parts to Tech’s success.

Scouting Chattanooga

Similar to Tech, Chattanooga endured a trying 2010 season and is looking to rebound this year with an experienced roster that lost just two starters.

After finishing 4-13-2 last fall and coming in at 11th of 12 teams in the Southern Conference, the Mocs started their 2011 campaign with a 2-1 preseason victory over OVC opponent Murray State on Aug. 13 in Chattanooga.

Senior midfielder Donna-Kay Henry leads Chattanooga offensively, having scored nine goals and distributed two assists in 2010 to accumulate 20 points. Taylor Mangrum, who posted a 2.09 goals-against average and a .787 save percentage last season, returns as the Mocs’ starting goalkeeper.

Chattanooga finished near the middle of the pack in the Southern Conference in most offensive statistical categories in 2010, but brought up the cellar in the league defensively, allowing 2.16 goals per game and a 2.08 goals-against average. The Mocs led their league in saves with 7.74 per game.

Tech is 4-9 all-time against Chattanooga with the most recent meeting between the two schools being a 3-0 Chattanooga victory at Tech Soccer Field in 2009.

Scouting Belmont

In Belmont, the Golden Eagles will get a preview of a squad that will become a league foe in 2012 as the Bruins join the OVC.

Belmont finished the 2010 season with a 5-11 record and went 4-6 in the Atlantic Sun Conference, placing ninth out of 11 teams. The Bruins have split two exhibition games so far this season, defeating Tennessee Wesleyan 5-0 before falling in their only encounter with another Division I squad, a 3-0 loss to Middle Tennessee State.

Junior forward Lauren Paynter is Belmont’s leading returning point-scorer — she had three goals and four assists in 2010 — and the Bruins return two goalkeepers who saw time last season — sophomore Nicole Berner and senior Sari Lin. Berner started 11 of 16 games in 2010 and posted a 1.32 goals-against average.

Belmont ranked near the middle of their league in most defensive categories in 2010 while they came in toward the bottom of the pack offensively.

Tech is 4-5-2 all-time against Belmont with their latest meeting being a 0-0 tie in 2009 in Nashville.