Adam Sayers expected some growing pains when he took over as the East Tennessee State women’s soccer coach. But when he saw what he had to work with, the prospects became much less painful.
“Once we were able to come in and evaluate the team, we certainly knew there was potential here,” Sayers said Monday.
That potential is beginning to be realized as the Lady Bucs are in the midst of a dramatic turnaround. With a fourgame winning streak that included the first three Atlantic Sun Conference games, ETSU has already matched last year’s win total.
The Lady Bucs are coming off a road sweep of Belmont and Lipscomb that raised their overall record to 8-3. They went 8-7-3 last year. They’re 3-0 in conference play for the first time in the program’s 15-year history.
“They are playing well,” said Sayers, whose team has won eight of its last nine games. “The cohesion and the spirit is very good. Each individual is working very hard, and the collective effort of the team is very strong.”
Maybe just as important as the six points in the standings was the fashion in which ETSU pulled off the Nashville sweep. In both games, the Lady Bucs were down 1-0 at halftime only to rally for 2-1 victories with strong second-half performances.
“They showed a great deal of maturity and composure and professionalism,” Sayers said. “We made a couple of tactical changes, but what really carried us to the wins was the attitude and work ethic of the players.”
In the win at Belmont, the Lady Bucs beat former ETSU coach Heather Henson, now head coach of the Bruins.
On a team with nine freshmen and nine sophomores, Sayers has relied on his three seniors — goalkeeper Caitlyn Gaughan, midfielder Genna Petersen and defender Jessica Hiltenbrand — to provide guidance.
“Our three seniors have been fantastic,” Sayers said. “Their leadership and their influence on the team has been good. With a young team, we need that leadership.”
The seniors are also producing on the field. Petersen is the Lady Bucs’ leading scorer with 16 points, and her six goals are second on the team. Gaughan has played every minute in goal and has a .88 goals-against average to go along with four shutouts.
Eleven different players have scored goals. Freshman Jenna Caudle leads the team with seven.
“Jenna continues to work hard,” Sayers said. “She’s a great outlet for us. When we’ve been able to create the chances for her, she’s been very prolific. It’s not just her goal scoring that stands out, it’s her whole game.”
ETSU’s next action will come this weekend when it plays host to North Florida on Friday night and Jacksonville on Sunday.
“Two tough games,” Sayers said. “They’re all tough games from this point on.”