By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Locked, loaded, and ready to go, the Tennessee Tech soccer team gets set to usher in a new era in program history over the weekend, welcoming in Little-Rock on Friday and in-state foe Middle Tennessee on Sunday for the start of the 2015 season. Added intrigue highlights the beginning of year thanks to the addition of broadcast quality lights at Tech Soccer Field, making Friday night's match with Little-Rock the first ever home night match in school history. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. CT, while Sunday's match with the Blue Raiders is scheduled to get underway at 4 p.m.
Both matches will be broadcast live on the Golden Eagle Sports Network via the Ohio Valley Conference Digital Network. CLICK HERE TO WATCH.
"I think anytime you start the season there is a great deal of excitement," second-year TTU head coach Steve Springthorpe claimed on the prospects of christening the 2015 campaign. "I think coming off the season we had last year, the team is definitely looking forward to playing better and generating more success this season. Our players have certainly been working hard in the preseason to make our team better and so far the results have been encouraging."
Youth still makes up a large majority of this year's Tech bunch, with 16 of the 24 on the squad freshmen or sophomores. The Golden Eagles enter the year with five juniors and three seniors, including Taylor Blazei, who comes into her Tech swan song having led last year's club in assists, points, shots, shots on-goal, and finished tied for first in goals.
Of the 16 underclassmen, 10 are sophomores that come into the season with a year of collegiate soccer under their belt, a factor that could prove to be crucial for the upcoming campaign.
"We had some individuals from last year's freshmen class that played almost every single minute and that's vital," Springthorpe noted. "They now have experience on how to play at the collegiate level and have had the opportunity to play together more."
In fact, sophomores Cassidy Ortman and Mary Francis Hoots finished last year second and third respectively on the team in minutes on the pitch, with Ortman tallying 1,706 and Francis Hoots accumulating 1,691 minutes of action as freshmen.
Other key returnees on this year's TTU bunch include fellow sophomore Zoie Hensley, who finished second on last season's team with three assists and five points, junior Kalyn Pruett, who has started in 30 matches in her first two years with the program, junior Abi Gearing, who has four career goals, and senior Taylor Sutton, who has appeared in 51 matches throughout her Golden Eagle tenure.
From a newcomer perspective, seven players will drape the Tech purple and gold for the first time, including junior transfer Marissa Rouse to accompany Molly Kafader, Courtney Manning, Alyssa Montgomery, Kari Naerdemann, Dani Robb, and Mayra Tarraga Manzanal, all of whom are freshmen.
The Golden Eagles opened up their preseason camp at the beginning of August, and according to Springthorpe, the early returns show promise heading into the regular season.
"I believe we've improved in every facet of the game so far," Springthorpe said on what has been just over two weeks of preseason training. "We've attacked well, defended well, and have shown more creativity. We are finding the style that we want to play and our players have improved in many different areas as oppose to this time last year. I think more people will look at our team and should be able to see a big difference in how the team plays and how we are competitive."
Little Rock heads to Cookeville for the season-opener, coming off the program's most successful season in school history. With an 11-8-1 overall record in 2014, the Trojans enjoyed their first winning season in program history, which included nine straight wins to open up the year, also a Little Rock school record for any sport.
One of those victories came against the Golden Eagles, a 1-0 nod on Sep. 14 to boost the Trojans' all-time record to 2-0 over Tech.
Changeover is a major theme for this year's Little Rock club with 20 newcomers and just seven returners on the roster. Sophomore Fali Garuba highlights the group of returnees, wrapping up 2014 with a club-best nine goals and 23 points.
Middle Tennessee takes the trip to Tech on Sunday for what will be the Blue Raider season opener after closing 2014 with a .500 overall record (9-9-2). Senior Grace Summers returns as last year's leading goal-scorer with six of the 20 MTSU scores in 20 matches. The Carrollton, Texas native also led the Blue Raiders with 14 points in 2014.
Middle Tennessee leads the all-time series, 14-2, having last squared off in Cookeville in 2012.
Admission to all Golden Eagle home regular season matches is free of charge.