soccer season underway, volleyball to start Sept. 3 at home

soccer season underway, volleyball to start Sept. 3 at home

Though the university’s academic year only started Wednesday, Belmont Athletics are already in full swing heading into the fall semester.

The Bruins will compete to improve last year’s second-place finish in the 2020-2021 Ohio Valley Conference Commissioner’s Cup, where they fell short to Southeast Missouri State University.

And an uphill battle is already underway.

Kicking off its regular season Aug. 20, the women’s soccer team lost 0-1 to Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro.

After another game Sunday that resulted in a 0-3 defeat against Evansville, women’s soccer head coach Heather Henson said they will focus on building a strong team dynamic. The Bruins are ready to work hard and hungry to learn over the next few months, she said.

“Last season reminded us of the blessing to be together,” Henson said. “Now we prepare to position ourselves to win another conference championship.”

While failing to match their 2019-2020 OVC Championship victory, the Bruins still received three end-of-season accolades. Graduate Julie Garst and returning senior Rachel Vernon took places on the All-OVC Team while sophomore Anna Sweeney was voted on to the All-Newcomer Team.

Henson believes freshmen Allison Brockelman and Leah Firsdon will make their marks on the field this fall, she said.

Alongside the new recruits, the team announced the addition of assistant coach Sam Mahtani, who comes to Belmont after spending the previous six seasons as head coach at Providence Christian College in California.

Joining the returners, women’s soccer opens their conference play by returning to the home turf of E.S. Rose Park on Sept. 26.

Meanwhile, men’s soccer began its season Thursday against Missouri State.

The Bears responded to senior Niccolo Dagnoni’s leading goal by matching it in the first half and scoring two more in the second to defeat the Bruins 3-1.

Remembering the record-breaking second-place achievement in last year’s Southern Conference Championship, men’s head coach David Costa looks forward to the season.

“We want to be the best team we can be by the end of the year,” he said. “We will use every session and match as a learning experience to develop our team on the field so we are at our peak by the conference tournament.”

The team has added eight players to its 2021 roster, welcoming three freshmen and five transfers. With the new talent, the team looks strong, Costa said.

Additions have also been made to the volleyball team in preparation for their season as three new student-athletes join the returners.

After their opening game against Western Kentucky University was postponed, the Bruins will start their season by going up against Alcorn State at home Sept. 3.

A total of 29 match-ups, including 11 opening non-conference games, stand between them and a possible OVC Championship Tournament that could then lead to an NCAA appearance.

And the team is excited for the season ahead, said volleyball head coach Katelyn Harrison.

“We have a talented group of upperclassmen who have the maturity to lead the way for a very strong season,” she said. “Last spring even our younger players contributed in key moments during our OVC play, which has helped them to mature faster and be more prepared to lead and shine in those big moments this fall.”

The Bruins placed tenth, but despite missing out on a championship tournament, returning senior Taylor Floyd received the first individual postseason accolade for Belmont volleyball since 2017. 

Floyd was honored with an All-OVC Second Team accolade, leading Belmont’s player chart in kills, attacks, block assists and total points.

“This team made great progress last spring and as a staff we are going to make sure to celebrate all progress and to really focus on continuing to move the team forward,” Harrison said.

After a strong end to their season last spring, Belmont’s cross-country teams are gearing up for another run at an NCAA Championship. Head coach John Langdon said that OVC Championships are a possibility for both the men’s and women’s teams, but his main goal is for the teammates to work hard and build each other up. 

For the women’s team, Grace Litzinger, Lily Hallum, Katie Flaherty and Maddy Malczewski as well as newcomers Kaitlyn Vanderkolk and Brooke Stromsland are among the runners to look out for this year, Langdon said.

On the men’s team, senior Ben Naeger and graduate student Aidan Thompson have the potential to lead their squad to good results at regionals and a potential spot in the NCAA Championship. 

Looking forward, a fall sports luncheon will be held Aug. 31. Emceed by the new lead broadcaster for men’s basketball, John Freeman, Belmont’s head coaches of soccer, volleyball and cross-country will answer questions and share more thoughts on the upcoming season.

Keep up with the Vision for continued coverage of Belmont Athletics into the fall semester.

This article was written by Jessica Mattsson. Contributory reporting on track and field by Sarah Maninger. Photo by Tyra Finkeldey.

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