By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee Tech soccer team is back in action, as the Golden Eagles prepare to kick-off the 2013 regular season with a pair of tilts this weekend. Tech opens its slate with a matchup this Friday at 4 p.m. CDT in Knoxville, where the squad will clash with Kennesaw State at the University of Tennessee, before making its much anticipated home debut against the University of Evansville on Sunday at 1 p.m.
"The girls are itching to play their first actual match of the year," said fourth year head coach Daniel Brizard on the prospects of opening up another Tech soccer campaign. "There is a good vibe around the team and everyone just wants to start the season."
The Golden Eagles unofficially began the year this past Saturday, forcing Tennessee Wesleyan to a 1-1 draw thanks to an Ellie Iaciofano equalizer. The 6'0" senior forward picked up right where she left off after a team-leading eight-goal, 20-point junior campaign. While the final score wasn't indicative of the type of match Tech played with over 20 scoring chances on the day, Brizard used the exhibition as an opportunity to learn about this season's squad.
"I think that the tie was best for us," claimed Brizard. "We went down 1-0 and had to fight back to level it up, and in the end that was a fight that was pretty good for us. It was one of the better outcomes. Sometimes when you blow out a team it doesn't really give you a true sense of who or what you are as a team."
The Golden Eagles head into the christening of a new season with an optimistic attitude of reversing last year's struggles. Tech wrapped up the 2012 campaign with a 5-12-1 record, including a 3-7 Ohio Valley Conference mark, but as far as Brizard is concerned, confidence will play a key factor towards success in 2013.
"Traditionally we have struggled in the past winning games, not so much with the way we have played, but just winning games in the end," said Brizard. "Sometimes that's hard when you are used to one way, so we have to pull ourselves out of that and realize we are not the teams of the past and that we can be successful. I think it's important for us to get some confidence in these games and I think that's how we will be successful."
From an offensive perspective, the Golden Eagles will rely heavily on the aforementioned Iaciofano. The Loveland, Ohio native enters the year with some hefty hardware after being selected to the 2012 all-OVC second-team in addition to earning the team offensive MVP award. Iaciofano's eight-goal, 20-point showing was good enough for third in the conference in both categories. "Ellie's a leader on this team, both vocally and physically," commented Brizard on the senior forward. "She does everything right and wants to win as much as any of us. She will be a player to watch and has the stats to back it up."
From a defensive standpoint, look no further than sophomore goalkeeper Jordan Brown. The native of League City, Texas is coming off a sensational freshman campaign, finishing 13th in all of Division I with 123 saves, a mark that was also the third-highest in Tech history. "Jordan had a great freshman year," said Brizard. "It's always hard for a freshman goal keeper to come in and play, but she made the best of every situation and she is going to be a key for us this year."
Brizard is also high on the defensive duo of junior Katie Phillips and redshirt senior Leigh Heffner. Phillips wrapped up last year second on the team with 1,645 minutes of action, starting in all 18 matches and playing at least 85 minutes in every one of them. "Katie is going to be someone to depend on to help us go in the right direction this season," said Brizard.
As far as Heffner is concerned, the Golden, Colo. native comes into her final season in the Tech purple and gold after missing much of the 2012 season due to an ACL injury. Twice named to all-OVC teams, the highly decorated Heffner will look to close out her career in grand fashion. "Leigh isn't going to garner a lot of recognition from a stats perspective because she is a center back, but she is solid on the back line and is a leader of this team," said Brizard. "She is coming off an ACL injury, so you know she wants to end her playing career on a positive note."
Adding to Tech's talented veteran core is a group of nine freshmen ready to make an impact this season. Micki Dye enters the mix as an outside back from nearby Nashville, leading Christ Presbyterian Academy to a AA State championship on her way to State Tournament Offensive MVP honors.
Abi Gearing enters her Golden Eagle tenure after suiting up for the Eclipse Select Soccer Club, one of the most prestigious clubs in the country. The incoming forward from Libertyville, Ill. led the club in scoring in 2011-12 for a squad that was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation.
Ashlyn Flaherty is another dynamic goal scorer to keep a keen eye on, as the midfielder from Chagrin Falls, Ohio recorded an incredible 36 goals and 29 assists during her high school career at Chagrin Falls High School.
Friday's clash with Kennesaw State will mark the first time the Golden Eagles have squared off with the Owls since 2006, when Tech fell 7-0. KSU will be making its 2013 debut as well, splitting a pair of pre-season matches with a 3-0 win against Clayton State last Saturday and a 3-0 loss to the hands of Wofford College on Aug. 9. The Owls finished the 2012 campaign 10-8-1, wrapping up their Atlantic Sun Conference mark at 6-2-1.
Sunday's home opening affair with Evansville will be the first ever meeting between Tech and the Purple Aces. Evansville is coming off a 5-8-3 2012 record, going 4-1-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference.