On Aug. 30, Tennessee Tech soccer fans witnessed a historical game as the Golden Eagles defeated the Southeastern Conference’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Tech’s win against the Tide marked the program’s first ever win against an SEC opponent and the first win of their young season. The team earned the win in front of a record-setting crowd of 961 spectators breaking the previous record set in the team’s season opener against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Aug. 21.
The Golden Eagles opened up the scoring in the 16th minute. Sophomore Mary Francis Hoots scored after assists from senior Taylor Blazei and sophomore Zoie Hensley.
Alabama had no response to the Tech lead until the second half when midfielder Celia Jimenez Delgado Golden Eagles’ goal keeper Kari Naerdemann making the game a 1-1 tie at the 52nd minute.
Nearly 10 minutes later in the contest, Tech senior Taylor Sutton had the goal of the night for the Golden Eagles. Crimson Tide goalkeeper Kat Stratton was stripped of the ball by Hensley who was able to get the ball across to senior Taylor Sutton for the assist. Sutton caught Stratton out of position and scored the wide open goal.
“It is kind of a blur honestly,” said Sutton about the goal, “Getting that goal was super exciting. We worked so hard. We gave up that last goal [to Alabama] and we did not quit we kept pushing and we kept fighting. We got it [the goal] back and we knew that after that we were not done. We had to keep fighting and keep pushing just like we did before.”
Sutton’s goal was not enough to completely silence the Crimson Tide. Alabama continued to challenge the Golden Eagle’s defense with repeated offensive threats and shot attempts, but a resilient defensive attack and a solid performance from goalkeeper Naerdemann completed the victory in front of another large crowd at Tech Soccer Field.
The trend so far this season has been large home crowds for the Golden Eagles. Head coach Steve Springthorpe hopes the trend continues.
“The community as well as the campus, and the university they have come out and supported us,” said Springthorpe. “There is just an added energy when you have got a huge crowd and fans supporting you. So, we are really happy that the community has come out to support our team.”
Naerdemann finished the game with five saves. The Tech defense only allowed six shots on goal the entire game.
“We are trying to be known as a defending team this year,” said Springthorpe. “Last year we gave up 53 plus goals which is a lot in a 19 or 20 game schedule. So all along the focus has been defend, defend, and defend.”
While the win was historical, it was also a much needed win for a team that had begun the season with three straight one-goal losses. The win was a confidence boost at the right time for the Golden Eagles.
“Coming off of three losses, you needed to find a win badly”, said Springthorpe. “ It really did not matter what team it was it was just trying to get a result after three kind of heartbreaking losses for us. The significance is I hope it gets us on a run now.”
To the players, the high profile of their opponent added fuel to the post game celebration and sparked disbelief afterwards for some members of the team.
“ Once they announced one minute left in the game, I think it kind of hit us like ‘Oh my gosh we just beat an SEC school. We just made history’, said Sutton. “Honestly, it was an incredible feeling. There are no words to describe it.”
The victory has brought a lot of media attention to the team. The social media response to the win was unprecedented for the program. There was not many people on campus and in the Cookeville area that did not know about the victory.
“There have been a lot of people asking about it [the game],” said Sutton. “It was really kind of surreal how many people knew about it and it is everywhere you turn. Someone is asking you about the game or someone is congratulating you.”
The Golden Eagles solid defense has continued to be a trait of the team so far this season. Tech held Mercer University to a 0-0 tie Sept. 4 and also played to a tie with Georgia State University Sept. 6. Both games went into two overtimes. The Panthers were only able to find the net once and the Bears were shut out. The Golden Eagles will play their first home game since the upset of Alabama against Radford University Sunday.