By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The start of another Tennessee Tech soccer season is upon us.
The Golden Eagles kick off the 2018 campaign with a two-match road swing, beginning with a Friday night battle at Georgia State before locking up with Lipscomb Sunday evening to conclude the early-season road trip. Both matches are slated to start at 6 p.m. CT.
Selected to finish third in the OVC's predicted order of finish, Tech enters the season on a current three-year run as good as any in program history. 28 victories over the last three seasons are the most in three-straight campaigns since the early 2000s, while TTU's 18 conference victories over that same span are the most in school history. The Golden Eagles finished the regular season in second place in the OVC and advanced to the OVC Tournament semifinals for the third-consecutive year.
Tech's 2017 season featured its fair share of historical feats, highlighted by a program-best fewest losses with only five defeats all season long. Proven to be the bread and butter throughout this current stretch of success, TTU's defense yielded just eight goals in 2017, breaking 2016's school record of 13 scores surrendered. In fact, the Golden Eagles ended the regular season with five-straight shutouts to their name as part of a nine-match unbeaten streak, the longest in school history.
Smack dab in the middle of the three-year long surge is goalkeeper Kari Naerdemann, who returns for her senior season already equipped with a slew of historical program and conference achievements. The only three-time winner of the Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year award, Naerdemann is coming off a junior campaign that saw the Herne, Germany native post a 0.45 goals against average and a .896 save percentage, both program bests.
The Golden Eagles have allowed one goal or less in 31 of their last 32 matches dating back to 2016.
From an offensive perspective, Cookeville native Kendall Powell returns for her sophomore season after leading Tech with four goals and 10 points in her rookie campaign. Senior Tina Marolt comes back for her second season in purple and gold following a junior year that saw the Smatevz, Slovenia product tie for first on the Golden Eagles with four assists. Both Powell and Marolt secured spots on last year's OVC All-Newcomer team.
Marolt is also Tech's leading minute's returner with 1,532 minutes on the pitch a season ago. Fellow senior midfielder Molly Kafader returns for her swan song campaign after tallying 1,488 minutes last year, second highest behind Marolt among returners.
Tech said goodbye to seven seniors in 2017 and have eight newcomers this season, all freshmen.
Georgia State greets the Golden Eagles having recently been selected to finish ninth in the Sun Belt in the conference's preseason predicted order of finish. Senior midfielder Monique Hundley punched her ticket on the Preseason Sun Belt All-Conference team after leading the Panthers in 2017 with 45 shots, 19 of which were on-goal.
GSU went 3-11-3 last season with a 1-7-2 mark during conference action. TTU is 2-5-1 in its all-time series with the Panthers, claiming a 1-0 victory in Cookeville a season ago. The last time the two teams locked up in Atlanta was September 2015, a match that ended in a 1-1 draw.
Before welcoming the Golden Eagles to Nashville, Lipscomb will tangle with another OVC school with a Friday night matchup at Belmont. The Bisons were selected to finish second in the preseason Atlantic Sun conference standings and landed three on the Preseason All-Conference team in the form of Justis Bailey, Olivia Doak and Maycie McKay. Doak and McKay are the co-leaders in program history for most career goals with 10 each.
Lipscomb posted a 9-7-3 record in 2017, going 5-1-1 throughout conference play. Tech has never lost to the Bisons behind a perfect 7-0 mark. The two squads have not met since 2011.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information