By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The list of offseason questions of who, when and where will the Tennessee Tech soccer team play in 2019 are all answered. The Golden Eagles and head coach Steve Springthorpe have announced the fall schedule, a three-month marathon that kicks off midway through August.
18 regular-season matches as well as a pair of exhibition contests are on deck for Tech, with challenging non-conference clashes, travel out West and the longest homestand in the Springthorpe era all on the books for the purple and gold in 2019.
The journey begins with back-to-back home exhibition affairs against Southern Illinois on Aug. 11 and Chattanooga on Aug. 18, before the Golden Eagles march into the regular season with five straight matches away from Cookeville, highlighted by non-conference tournaments in Alabama and Arizona.
"We built the schedule this year to be challenging for our team," head coach Steve Springthorpe claimed, on the initial prospects of the upcoming slate. "There is more travel involved than usual, especially in the first half of the season during non-conference play. We are on the road for five straight games to begin the regular season, but the level of teams we are playing and the quality of those programs will be good for our team in the long run."
TTU unwraps the regular season with a non-conference tourney hosted by Troy, squaring off with South Alabama on Aug. 23 and the host Trojans on Aug. 25. Following the pair of battles in Alabama, the Golden Eagles will pack their bags and take to the skies with two matches out West as part of a tournament hosted by Arizona State. The Golden Eagles will tangle with the host Sun Devils on Aug. 30 and fellow Pac-12 foe Arizona on Sept. 1.
"As you'll see with some of the early-season opponents, there is some familiarity with teams like Troy and South Alabama who we have played in the past and we know Troy puts on a good tournament so that will be an experience we looking forward to," Springthorpe said. "The Arizona State tournament is something very different for our program. We have not had a trip where we have flown since I've been here, but it worked out this year that we get the chance to do something like this. We are going to play two 'Power 5' schools that are routinely in the NCAA Tournament and I think playing against that type of competition in that kind of environment will be great for our team and will help us prepare for our conference schedule."
Arizona one of three NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago that TTU will see in 2019. Tech hosts ASUN Tournament champion Lipscomb on Sept. 15 and OVC Tournament winner Murray State on Oct. 11.
The Golden Eagles put the finishing touches on the season-long five-match road swing to open the year with a Sept. 6 meeting at North Alabama. Playing in their first year of Division I competition in 2018, the Lions made it to the ASUN Tournament championship match and defeated the Golden Eagles in Cookeville last season.
"Those first five matches on the road will certainly be a challenge for us, but I think we need to learn how to play away from home a little better and this will give us a chance to strengthen that area," Springthorpe noted. "If you look in the past, we haven't played all that well on the road, so a schedule like this could benefit us down the line once you get into conference play and have to go on the road in the OVC."
"The good thing about the start of this schedule is that we do get the first two exhibition matches at home," Springthorpe continued. "I'm happy that early on we are going to be playing in Cookeville and get the chance to get our feet wet against two good teams. We have 13 newcomers on this year's team so there are going to be things that we will need to figure out early. Playing those exhibition matches are important for us and it's definitely a benefit that we get to play them at home."
Following the five-match road trip that carries the purple and gold through the first week of September, the Golden Eagles can look forward to a five-match homestand, the longest consecutive stretch in Cookeville since concluding the 2010 campaign with four straight at Tech Soccer Field. TTU opens the busy stint at home with a Sept. 8 get-together against Appalachian State, before greeting Evansville on Sept. 13 and Lispcomb on Sept. 15.
The homestand also bridges the gap from non-conference action to OVC play with a Sept. 20 meeting against Morehead State and a Sept. 22 battle vs. Eastern Kentucky. The Golden Eagles are a combined 18-3-3 at home over the last three seasons.
"That first stretch at home is all against good teams, and if you look at the non-conference portion of it, there is no doubt that we are going to be tested right away," Springthorpe said. "Appalachian State is a strong team and a great way for us to start our home schedule. Lipscomb is a club that won an NCAA Tournament game last year and is always a very good team. Then if you look at Evansville, that's a team that we've played the last couple of years and they are a group that we lost to last season, so we of course know what they can bring to the table."
After the lengthy period at Tech Soccer Field, the Golden Eagles will alternate playing two straight on the road and two straight at home during OVC action. TTU heads to SIUE on Sept. 26 and scoots to Belmont on Oct. 4, before hosting Austin Peay on Oct. 6 and Murray State on Oct. 11.
The final four in the regular season features three tilts on the road, with an Oct. 25 match against UT Martin serving as the only home affair in the remaining quartet of contests. The Golden Eagles will be at Jacksonville State on Oct. 13, at Eastern Illinois on Oct. 18, and following the clash with the Skyhawks, TTU will close out the regular season at SEMO on Oct. 27.
The Golden Eagles ended 2018 with back-to-back home matches and in 2017 concluded the regular season with three straight in Cookeville.
"You know last year we were fortunate to have the last couple games of the season at home, but we were unable to find a way to end the season with the result we needed that would have pushed us into the OVC Tournament," Springthorpe said. "Last year, and to their credit, EIU came to our field and beat us in the regular-season finale. This year's schedule sets up in a way where we may have to be the team that needs to find a way to get results on the road at the end of the season."
"It's obviously a challenge, but that's why playing as much on the road as we are in the early part of the season should be beneficial," Springthorpe continued. "Come crunch time, our goal is that we are used to playing on the road and it won't be like something we haven't tackled before."
The OVC Tournament begins with first-round action on Nov. 1. Second round matches will take place on Nov. 3, while the semifinals are set for Nov. 8 and the championship match is on Nov. 10. The top two teams in the league regular-season standings will earn a double-bye and advance straight to the semifinals, hosted by the No. 1 seed and regular season champion. The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds will earn a single-bye and host a second-round match, while the No. 5-8 seeds will play each other in first-round contests.
Admission to all regular season home matches at Tech Soccer Field is free of charge.