Sarah Zadrazil brought a little extra confidence back to campus last weekend, and it showed.
The sophomore midfielder assisted on three goals and scored one herself as East Tennessee State opened its Atlantic Sun Conference soccer schedule with a 7-1 rout of USC Upstate.
Zadrazil recently spent a couple of weeks playing with the Austrian national team and preparing for World Cup qualifying matches. She was joined by her ETSU teammate, freshman Jenny Poltl.
The pair was part of a 4-0 victory over Bulgaria on their home turf on Sept. 21, and a 2-1 loss in Finland four days later. Zadrazil had two assists in the former, while Poltl scored a goal.
“It’s always good to play with the national team,” Zadrazil said Tuesday before a workout at Summers-Taylor Stadium. “The level of the team is higher than college. The players are older and are from pro leagues. It’s all very professional and you learn from it.”
Zadrazil made the 25-hour trip from Finland to suit up for the Upstate game and showed no signs of jet lag. She assisted on the tying goal, then put the Lady Bucs up for good as they roared past the Spartans.
ETSU improved to 5-4-1 on the season heading into a home match Friday night against Mercer.
“The team performed very well,” said Zadrazil. “We had a lot of chances and scored some goals. I felt confident after being with the national team.”
The Austrians, including freshman Simona Koren, who has been sitting out with an injury, are apparently adjusting well to life at ETSU. The weather is a little hotter than they’re used to, and the food a little different, but they enjoy each other’s company.
The three came up through the junior ranks together in Austria, playing on the U17 and U19 national teams before Zadrazil and Poltl moved to the highest level. Koren may join them before long.
“It was especially nice when I came here and had teammates that I already knew,” said Poltl. “To see everyone every day, it’s very nice.”
Said Zadrazil, “We don’t have college teams in Austria; we play for club teams. It’s great to come here and play with all these girls, in these facilities.”
ETSU has a dozen international players on its roster, and most have played for their respective countries at one level or another. Coach Adam Sayers says the international experience is invaluable as they adapt and adjust to the college game.
Being part of World Cup qualifying is special.
“They’re playing with the best players from their country and working with fantastic coaches,” said Sayers. “That will always improve any player’s performance, and I think we’re seeing the results.”
Zadrazil already has 10 assists in eight games this season, matching her record-setting freshman total, and leads the nation in assists per game. As conference freshman of the year last fall, she often set up Ramey Kerns, who led the nation with 21 goals.
Kerns could have returned for one more season of soccer but instead graduated early to move on with her life.
Zadrazil is now the featured performer on a team that should contend for a conference championship. In ETSU’s scheme, she is counted on to be both a facilitator and a scorer.
“Sarah is a fantastic player,” said Sayers. “She’s a very complete player – technically excellent, very skillful individually, understands the game and is strong and fast. For us, she’s more of an attacking midfield player who creates goal-scoring opportunities for others. And she’s always going to score a few herself.”
Zadrazil says she hasn’t adjusted her approach much since Kerns departed the scene.
“We still have good strikers,” she said, “and I try to put them in good positions.”
Poltl is a new beneficiary. The versatile freshman has scored three goals so far, putting her third on the team behind junior Kristi Davis (6) and Zadrazil (4).
The offensive options appear to be growing for the Lady Bucs, who have lost just once in their last six matches. Molly Collinson, a freshman from England, scored two goals against Upstate in her first action of the season, and Koren is expected to be healthy enough to play this weekend.