NASHVILLE, Tenn. - After earning a share of the Atlantic Sun regular season title last season, the Belmont women's soccer program is poised to make a run at bringing home the title solo in 2010. Head Coach Lisa Howe has loaded this year's pre-season and non-conference schedules with opponents from strong conferences and has formulated a plan of attack to stay atop the always competitive A-Sun.
"This is the most challenging schedule I have put together in my career," said Howe, who was named Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year in 2009. "I have a lot of confidence in this team. With our talent and experience, this is the kind of pre-season and non-conference schedule that we need to prepare us for our conference schedule and quest for a championship. We will play opponents from the Southern Conference, SEC, Big XII, ACC, Big 10, and Sun Belt."
The Bruins play their first four contests, including two exhibition match-ups, on the road. BU opens the season at Samford, who advanced all the way to the semifinals of the SoCon Tournament, for an exhibition contest on August 12 before returning to Nashville three days later for a game with in-town foe Vanderbilt. The Bruins travel west for a pair of games in the state of Missouri, stopping at Mizzou on August 20 and Southeast Missouri State, two days later. The Tigers won their second consecutive Big 12 tournament title in 2009 while the Redhawks of SEMO finished with an 8-7-3 overall mark last season, narrowly missing an appearance in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
The 2010 slate officially opens at home with a trio of first-time opponents visiting Whitten Soccer Complex. The Bruins host Clemson on August 27, Minnesota on August 31 and close with Arkansas State on September 5. The Tigers struggled through a tough season, finishing with a 3-15 record. The Golden Gophers finished fourth in the Big 10 last year with an overall mark of 12-5-3. ASU made it to the semifinals of the Sun Belt tournament before falling, concluding the season with an 8-10-3 overall record.
"I am excited about and fortunate to have a great home schedule. It is a privilege for this senior class to get to play Clemson, Minnesota, Mercer, Kennesaw State, Campbell, Jacksonville, UNF, and Lipscomb at home," Howe said.
BU then hits the road for its final two non-conference matchups, taking on another first-time opponent in Eastern Illinois on September 10 and Indiana State two days later. Last year, the Panthers of EIU were tripped up in the opening round of the OVC tournament and finished with a 7-8-5 mark while the ISU Sycamores fell in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinals and finished with a 5-10-3 overall mark.
Highly anticipated Atlantic Sun action begins the weekend of September 17 with BU hosting Mercer and last year's conference representative in the NCAA Tournament, Kennesaw State. The Owls narrowly edged the Bruins, 2-1, to win the A-Sun Tournament and the automatic bid to the big dance. After hitting the road for matches at USC Upstate (September 24) and in-state rival ETSU (September 26), BU spends nearly two weeks on its home field. During the stretch, the Bruins host Campbell (September 30), Jacksonville (October 8), and North Florida (October 10). Belmont's last road trip is through Florida with stops at Florida Gulf Coast on October 15 and Stetson two days later.
The Bruins conclude the 2010 regular season with the annual Battle of the Boulevard match with Lipscomb on October 23 at Whitten Soccer Complex.
"Last year, we only had four conference games at home. This year, we have six home conference games," Howe said. "We hope this will give us an advantage in a conference where anything can happen."
In 2009, the Bruins amassed an overall record of 10-6-4 en route to claiming the program's first-ever share of the Atlantic Sun regular season title. Third-seeded Belmont, helmed by A-Sun Coach of the Year Lisa Howe, advanced to the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship game for the second year in a row.