MTSU has a near home matchup with Jackson State Thursday night in Nashville before hosting tough ACC opponent Florida State on Sunday afternoon.
The Blue Raiders opened the 2016 regular season with a late win over Jacksonville State on a goal in the 84th minute from redshirt freshman Haley Nishimoto.
Head coach Ashton Rhoden sat down with Sidelines to talk about the season opener, moving forward in the non-conference and what can be expected from his group this season.
You can listen to the full interview with coach Rhoden below.
*The interview was recorded on Wednesday 8/24.
Sidelines: Preseason prep, getting ready you know you have a really good non-conference. You have Jackson State tomorrow and Florida State on Sunday, talk about that.
Rhoden: Yeah, I mean, we basically always set up a schedule that we think is gonna prepare us, one for conference play, and two, to give us an additional chance to get in the NCAA tournament. I feel confident given the inexperience and youth of our team that these games will certainly help prepare us.
Sidelines: Looking at the shift from last season to this season, you’re losing a very experienced senior goalkeeper. Was it an easy transition, or has it been kind of a struggle?
Rhoden: Well, it’s a little bit of both. Kelsey Brouwer finished the season, had a phenomenal season and is now in the pros, you know. When you lose that, there are certain things having her for four years as a four-year starter that you kind of get accustomed to.
So now, it’s just the transition of making sure that the new kids, the younger kids, that are playing in goal for us, giving them the time that they need to get to the level that they need to get to. A lot of that comes with training and game experience.
Sidelines: Talk about the win last weekend, a good first game kind of starter. What was it like getting Haley to score late and get that win?
Rhoden: I mean it was good. You know we played a couple exhibition games where we were trying to find the right chemistry and the right matchup. To be honest we’re still trying to find that. We’re only really a game into the season.
To have a freshman step in late in the game and get a game winner, and I think especially for Haley. She was injured last year, had an ACL injury so she couldn’t play. So it was good, in her first ever collegiate game that she was able to get a game winner.
Sidelines: Talk about having Cameron Cox, somebody like that, experienced in the midfield. Is that helping with leadership on the team?
Rhoden: Yeah. Cam has been very, very consistent, very stable in her career here. Her game experience, her composure, her ability to lead, her understanding of what games mean, different games mean and kind of how to manage yourself within games and outside of games.
I think it’s gonna be a huge factor in terms of her helping to guide the young players that are gonna be playing next to her.
Sidelines: Talk about the prep that went into tomorrow’s game (Jackson State), you know you’re going to Nashville. Kind of a home game, you’re not going too far. What kind of prep was there?
Rhoden: Well we certainly spent the week trying to prepare for two opponents, two entirely different opponents. Coming out of last weekend’s game with Jacksonville State, the thing that we needed to do better was to keep the ball for longer periods of time. I think that’s a great way for us to defend. You know, obviously, if we have the ball we’re not defending.
That was one of the things that we worked on. We also think, with Jackson State, we’re gonna have to be able to keep the ball to create opportunities. And with Florida State, we’re going to have to keep the ball to prevent them from creating numerous opportunities, so that’s been a focus for us this week.
Sidelines: What’s your main goal for the non-conference slate as you gear up for a tough Conference USA season?
Rhoden: We certainly want to use it to help us learn how to manage different environments, different games. You know, we’re gonna have some conference games that are gonna be tough at home. We’re gonna have some that are tough on the road. So, I think if you look at our non-conference schedule, we’ve got some games like the Florida State and the Belmont that are tough at home in the non-conference, but then you also have Lipscomb on the road that’s gonna be tough in the non-conference..