NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It's crunch time for the Belmont women's soccer team. The Bruins conclude the regular season this week with their goal of an unprecedented third consecutive trip to the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament within reach.
Belmont hosts Southeast Missouri at E.S. Rose Park at 6:30 p.m. in their regular-season finale. A win would very much keep the Bruins in the conversation for a spot in the eight-team OVC tourney. A loss would mark the close of the season and all but eliminate BU, which reached the OVC Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history last year.
"Three points is a must for our game on Thursday," Belmont Head Coach Heather Henson said, referring to the three points issued to a winning side each game.
The Bruins (5-8-2, 3-5-1 OVC) are currently tied with Austin Peay in seventh place in the OVC standings with 10 points entering the final weekend of play. SEMO (4-7-3, 2-3-3 OVC) is lurking just a single point back at nine, but a win Thursday would keep the Bruins ahead of the Redhawks for good. SEMO closes its season by hosting Austin Peay on Sunday.
Belmont and Austin Peay are the only teams that play just one game this weekend with all the rest of the OVC still having two chances to pick up crucial points in the standings. Still, the Bruins have the potential to finish as high as fourth with a win and the right combination of other decisions around the conference. There is a possibility that they could also find themselves on the outside looking in even with a win should Tennessee Tech (8 points) sweep its final two games – both at home against SIUE (13 points) and Eastern Illinois (11 points) – and several other dominoes fall the wrong way.
With the Nos. 3-8 teams all separated by only three points – the value of a single win – and so many complex scenarios and moving parts still in play, Henson has her team instead focused on the only thing under their control: the Bruins' play and effort at E.S. Rose Park on Thursday.
"They have been maintaining a high level of energy and commitment in training," Henson began. "We have been continuing to work on our speed of play in the middle and into the attacking third and finishing."
LAST TIME OUT
The Bruins dropped a pair of games against the Ohio Valley Conference's top two teams last week to extend a recent cold streak. Belmont lost 2-0 to UT Martin and 4-1 at Murray State with Julie Garst providing the only goal of the week. After going unbeaten in six straight games (4-0-2) through the majority of September, Belmont has now lost five of six. Unfortunately, that latter stretch has all been in conference play.
SEMO has had the Bruins' number over the course of the teams' all-time series. Belmont is 1-6-4 against the Redhawks, but Belmont did win the last time they met in the regularseason a year ago, 4-2 on the road. SEMO later eliminated the Bruins from the OVC Tournament after a 0-0 draw went to penalty kick though.
SCOUTING THE REDHAWKS
Southeast Missouri brings a 4-7-3 record into Thursday's matchup, with a 2-3-3 mark in conference games, thanks largely to a league-low scoring output. Among OVC teams, SEMO has scored the fewest goals (11) and has the fewest total points (32) -- both by a lot.
Two players have done almost all the scoring for the Redhawks, junior midfielder Esmie Gonzales (6 goals) and freshman forward Morgan McCourt (4 goals). Sophomore forward Emily Holten has three of the team's 10 total assists. Freshman goalkeeper Bailey Redden has an OVC-best .839 save percentage and a 1.02 GAA. She's just 2-3-3 though because of the team's low scoring.
SEMO sits one point behind the Bruins in the OVC standings with nine points, but the Redhawks do play twice this week with Belmont having only one game. SEMO closes the season against Austin Peay at home Sunday.
OVC TOURNAMENT UPCOMING
The first round of OVC Tournament begins Friday, Oct. 26. The Nos. 5 and 8 teams play at the site of the No. 4 team while the Nos. 6 and 7 teams play at the site of the No. 3. The quarterfinals are set for Sunday, Oct. 28. Belmont can finish anywhere from fourth to 10th at this point.
SPREAD THE WEALTH
Eleven Bruins have combined to score Belmont's 16 goals this season -- Julie Garst is the lone player to score more than one goal (6) -- and the Bruins have had 16 players in all record at least one point. The team's 11 assists are spread over 10 players with Jessi Boozer the only Bruin with multiple assists (2).
SHOOTING UP THE RANKINGS
Sophomore forward Julie Garst ranks 32nd in the NCAA with 4.07 shots per game. She is second in the OVC in both shots per game as well as total shots (61), and her six goals and 13 points are both tied for seventh.