NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Coming off its best ever finish as a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, the Belmont women's soccer team is picked to place fourth in the league in 2018, the conference office announced Tuesday morning.
In a vote among OVC head coaches and sports information directors, Belmont is projected to tie for fourth with Southeast Missouri. The Bruins received 138 total vote points a year after finishing fourth during the regular season, their highest placing since joining the OVC ahead of the 2012 season.
Defending league champion Murray State was picked to repeat atop the OVC, but not without a little competition. The Racers received 15 of the 22 total first-place votes for 194 points to outpace Eastern Kentucky (four first-place votes, 166 points) and Tennessee Tech (three, 151).
Belmont hosted its first women's soccer OVC Tournament match in 2017 after compiling its best conference record since becoming an OVC member and its best overall record in nearly a decade. Led by head coach Heather Hensen, Belmont was 6-4 in league matches and 10-6-2 overall, the program's most wins since going 10-6-4 in 2009 as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
That placing earned the Bruins a postseason berth for the second consecutive season and the third time since their OVC membership began. Belmont fell to SEMO in the OVC quarterfinals after playing to a scoreless draw through two overtime periods. The Redhawks prevailed in penalty kicks, 5-4.
For coach Henson's eighth season at the helm, Belmont returns eight players that started at least 11 matches on last season's team, including junior goalkeeper Lily Herman (Springboro, Ohio) and a core group of six seniors. Forward Julie Garst (Franklin, Tenn.) will look to build off her all-conference freshman season when she scored five goals. Seniors Emily Whitcomb (Elmhurst, Ill.) and Megan Michela (Carol Steam, Ill.), as well as sophomores Sydney Cason (Hendersonville, Tenn.) and Halle Krebs (Lakewood, Ohio) all had four goals apiece in last season.
Cason and Garst were both named to the OVC's all-newcomer team last year.
The Bruins will be without their leading scorer from last year after the graduation of Belicia Mendiola, who had nine goals and eight assists.
Adding to its depth, Belmont has also brought nine newcomers on board for the 2018 season. That group includes seven freshmen and a pair of transfers on the defensive end.
The Bruins kick off their 2018 campaign with a pair of exhibition matches on the road, at Chattanooga (Aug. 9) and at Western Kentucky (Aug. 12). They will officially start the season by hosting Lipscomb on Friday, Aug. 17 at E.S. Rose Park.
2018 OVC Soccer Predicted Order of Finish
(First place votes in parenthesis)
1. Murray State (15) – 194
2. Eastern Kentucky (4) – 166
3. Tennessee Tech (3) – 151
4. (tie) Belmont – 138
4. (tie) Southeast Missouri – 138
6. SIUE – 125
7. UT Martin – 98
8. Austin Peay – 66
9. Jacksonville State – 64
10. Morehead State – 50
11. Eastern Illinois - 20