East Tennessee State women’s soccer coach Adam Sayers was hoping to take the confidence generated last season and blend it with the talent of a half-dozen newcomers.
So far, so good.
The Lady Bucs are off to a 4-0 start this fall, tying the program record for most consecutive wins to open a season. They’ll play at Middle Tennessee State on Sunday.
The pieces seem to be falling into place for Sayers, an Englishman who guided ETSU to a 12-5-1 record and share of the regular-season championship in the Atlantic Sun Conference in his debut season.
“I think last season was certainly beneficial, and that experience has helped the returning players,” Sayers said Wednesday. “But we have so many new players and there’s a new feel about the team, a new enthusiasm. It’s been invigorating.”
The Lady Bucs haven’t had any breathers in their unbeaten run. They won at UNC-Asheville in double overtime, slipped past Presbyterian here in overtime and defeated Radford 1-0 on Sunday.
Even a 2-0 win at Tennessee Tech in the season opener was hard-earned.
“They’ve all been very close,” said Sayers, “and that’s a testament to the team. The organization has been very good, and because the matches are so close, concentration and psychological factors become more important. The fact we’ve been able to win should help us later in the season.”
Forward Ramey Kerns was named the A-Sun player of the week after a three-goal weekend. The junior from Kings Mountain, N.C., scored both regulation goals in the 3-2 win over Presbyterian and delivered the game’s only score against Radford.
“She’s in good form, finishing very well,” said Sayers.
The coach says a couple of newcomers from Europe, Sarah Zadrazil (Austria) and Hannah Short (England), have already been impact players. He also likes his freshman goalkeeper, Sierra Campbell of Thompson’s Station.
“We had a lot of faith in Sierra, and she’s been brilliant so far,” said Sayers.
David Geno made sure a season-opening loss at Appalachian State didn’t linger long for the men’s soccer team.
The junior forward from Kingsport had two goals and an assist as the Bucs defeated UNC Greensboro 3-1 in their home opener Tuesday night.
“It was a very good performance against a very strong UNCG team,” coach Scott Calabrese said Wednesday. “I’m pretty sure they were the regular-season champs in the SoCon the last two years, and the tournament champs the year before. And to be honest, this team may be even stronger.”
Geno continues to assert himself in a big way. The three-year starter set a program record last season with nine goals and 21 points, and he now has 14 goals and nine assists in his career.
“With David, he’s got a combination of qualities that makes him a very good goal scorer,” said Calabrese. “He’s very composed around the goal. Whereas other players get affected by the pressure of being in tight spaces, David is very comfortable.
“The other thing is he’s so technically gifted. He has the ability to carve out a little space for himself and put the ball where he wants. Last night was maybe the best performance I’ve seen from him yet.”
The Bucs play at Presbyterian on Friday night, then return home for a major challenge against UAB on Sunday. The Blazers are ranked in the mid-teens this week in a couple of the national soccer polls.
“They’ll be a very different type of team,” said Calabrese. “UNCG has seven German players and some other internationals, and they’re a very technical team. UNCG is very athletic and certainly a bigger team. It’ll be a major test for us.”
Gametime is 1 o’clock.
The official coaching ledger begins this weekend for George Watts, ETSU’s new director of track and field/cross country.
The cross country season opens Friday with the Covered Bridge Open in Boone, N.C. Watts, a longtime Tennessee assistant coach who was hired here on Aug. 9, says he doesn’t have high expectations going into the meet.
“I think our kids are in pretty good shape,” he said, “but it’s a similar situation (to track and field) where the guys’ team is stronger than the women’s. The cross country season revolves around the conference meet, and we want to be at our best in late October.”
Watts has seen a whirlwind of activity in the program since taking over for Dave Walker, who retired in the spring after 50 years in charge. He’s on the verge of announcing the hiring of two assistant coaches and is trying to get a feel for his various athletes.
“The men might be a little ahead of the women right now,” he said. “They’re the defending conference champs, and a lot of those kids are returning. The women don’t have as much depth but there are a lot of good jumpers and sprinters.
“Overall I’m very pleased with this first group of kids.”
Watts, 56, is trying to get settled into a new apartment and learn all the ins and outs of the area.
“The people, the coaching staff and administrative people, have made me feel completely welcome,” he said. “It’s a great group of people and has been a huge benefit.”
The volleyball season is off to a rousing start at ETSU.
At 4-1, the Bucs are enjoying their best run out of the gate since 2007. They won three matches in the Gamecock Invitational at South Carolina – a loss to the home school is the only blemish on their record – before winning 3-0 at Presbyterian on Tuesday night.
Presbyterian had beaten them here last season.
Outside hitter Megan Devine was named the A-Sun player of the week on Monday. The league’s preseason player of the year had 72 kills and 50 digs at South Carolina and was named to the all-tournament team.
This weekend the Bucs head to Clemson for another invitational. They’ll face Chattanooga and Charlotte before taking on the host school.