By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – All facets of the game were clicking for the Tennessee Tech soccer team in its 2018 Ohio Valley Conference opener.
Behind a 12-shot attack highlighted by a pair of goals, as well as a lights-out defensive showing that featured just one Gamecock shot on-goal, the Golden Eagles soared their way to a 2-0 victory Friday evening to start its OVC voyage off in prime fashion.
Tech (5-3-0, 1-0-0 OVC) has now won three straight matches for the first time this season, while the purple and gold extend their unbeaten conference streak at home to 13 in a row, a stretch that has seen the Golden Eagles collect 12 wins and one tie dating back to 2015.
"We knew coming in that it was going to be a tough battle with Jacksonville State," TTU head coach Steve Springthorpe said. "We have played some of the same teams that JSU has during the non-conference and the results were kind of similar. They have done a great job defensively this year and knew that they had a direct attack in certain areas, so we were aware that we had to find a way to prepare for that. Credit goes to our team in following through with the game plan and putting together a great showing to start off the OVC schedule on the right foot."
The Golden Eagles scored late in each half to account for Tech's pair of net-finders. In fact, TTU split the pipes with the clock reading 10:31 left in the first stanza and 10:26 remaining in the second to give the club 12 scores this season, matching last year's output.
Senior Molly Kafader accounted for the first goal, a 35th minute score off of a corner that put Tech on top. Junior Rachel Blow started the play with a beautiful ball off of a corner kick that Kafader drilled off her head and into the back of the net for the Nashville native's second goal of the season. Blow's assist was also the second of her campaign.
"Molly has becoming better and better on that kind of play every year," Springthorpe noted. "She's winning the ball defensively for us and then on the attack is dangerous. She did a really good job finishing after a great serve by Rachel."
Tech's second goal, which essentially put the match on ice, came courtesy of a Nora Vicsek strike in the 80th minute. After blasting one off the crossbar in the 43rd minute, the Budapest, Hungary product would not be denied en route to collecting her first goal of the season. The score was set up on a leading pass from freshman Chloe Smith, who guided Vicsek toward the end line before the Golden Eagle junior blasted it on home. Smith's feed netted the 5-foot-8 forward with her second career assist.
"That was a great decision and a really smart play on Nora's part," Springthorpe said, referencing Vicsek's pipe-splitting missile. "It was a great pass by Chloe that slipped Nora to the end line where I think she saw the goal keeper cheating a little bit and put it in behind her. I think she would usually try to serve that across, but she tucked it in the back of the net."
"Overall we had two quality goals tonight with some more chances as well," Springthorpe continued. "We are certainly happy about our performance tonight and we will now try to build off of it come Sunday at Austin Peay."
Vicsek led the Golden Eagles in shots for the second straight match, tallying three in the contest to help pace a Tech offense that notched double-digit shots for the fifth time in the last six affairs. Ali Thomas was the JSU leader with three shots.
Defensively, TTU kept the Gamecocks (2-5-2, 0-1-0) to only one shot on-goal, an Ali Thomas attempt that was gobbled up by Kari Naerdemann in the 85th minute.
"That's what we try to do defensively, we want to limit opportunities," Springthorpe said. "We have a great goalkeeper and a back line that's learning. I think we did a really good job of handling their attack. They caused us some issues at times but we made some adjustments and did a much better job in the second half. I'm really happy. Anytime we can get a shutout we are pleased with that."
Naerdemann made one save in the affair. JSU's Morgan Lerch collected four stops, highlighted by a save made on a Marta Moreno blast from deep in the 52nd minute that Lerch poked over the cross bar, denying the TTU freshman of her third goal of the season.
The Golden Eagles will head to Austin Peay Sunday afternoon for the club's second OVC clash. First kick is slated for noon CT.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information