CHARLESTON, Ill. – Friday may feel like déjà vu for the Belmont women's soccer team. The Bruins hope for a familiar outcome against Southeast Missouri in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.
Belmont (6-8-2) beat SEMO (5-8-3) a week ago to draw the No. 6 seed in the bracket and a rematch with the Redhawks, the seventh seed. The first-round game is being played at 1 p.m. in Charleston, Ill., the home of Eastern Illinois. Friday's winner advances to face EIU in the quarterfinals Sunday.
The Bruins and Redhawks have a load of recent history, but none as fresh as a 2-1 double-overtime thriller in Nashville just last Thursday. Belmont's victory in its regular-season finale there secured a third straight OVC Tournament berth for the first time in BU program history.
The Bruins have had SEMO on their mind nonstop for two weeks at this point.
"There's definitely some benefit to that," said Belmont senior defender Sarah Bossung (Nashville, Tenn.). "We rewatched the same film, we can go back over our game plan we had last Thursday. We know their players and their game style pretty well."
Of Belmont's four OVC Tournament appearances since joining the league in 2012, this is its third time squaring off with SEMO. The Bruins are 0-1-1 in those first two matchups, including a 0-0 draw in the quarterfinals a year ago in which the Redhawks advanced on penalty kicks.
The Bruins are approaching their tournament opener with the same focus and intensity regardless of the opponent, Belmont Head Coach Heather Henson said. Just three points separated team Nos. 3 through 8 in the standings – and just five between team Nos. 3 and 10 – which leaves no room for looking ahead to the next round.
Any team can beat anyone come tournament time.
"You talk about parity in our conference, just look at the standings," Henson said. "When teams 3 and 4 have a tie, 5 and 6 have a tie and 7 and 8 have a tie to determine seeding in our tournament, that's how you know it's going to be a good tournament.
"No matter what draw you have, you have to show up and play. Every team, coach and player knows that."
Belmont has been shifted into playoff mode for some time now, having needed to win against SEMO a week ago just to reach this point. That mindset has treated the Bruins well so far though.
"At this point, even if it's cliché to say, you play like it's your last game," Bossung added. "But you have to; there's no other options. You fight until the end."
The first and quarterfinal rounds of the OVC Tournament can be streamed online for free through the OVC Digital Network. The semifinals and championship will be carried on ESPN+, a subscription-based streaming platform and the full-time home of OVC soccer starting next fall.
LAST TIME OUT
Belmont topped Southeast Missouri 2-1 in double overtime last Thursday in its season finale to earn a berth in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. Julie Garst's seventh goal tied the game in the 79th minute and Emily Nguyen's first career goal was the game winner in the 101st minute.
Belmont's 2-1 win last week upped the Bruins' all-time record to 2-6-4 against SEMO. The Bruins are 1-0-1 in two OVC Tournament games against the Redhawks, including last year's 0-0 scoreless draw in which SEMO advanced on penalty kicks. Of BU's four OVC Tournament games, three will have come against SEMO.
SCOUTING THE REDHAWKS
SEMO finished the regular season with a 5-8-3 record and a 3-4-3 mark in OVC games, one point behind Belmont in seventh place in the league standings. SEMO is the lowest scoring team in the conference at 0.88 goals per game.Junior midfielder Esmie Gonzales has the bulk of the team's 14 goals with nine on the season, including three in the past two games. One of those came against Belmont. Freshman goalkeeper Bailey Redden continues to lead the OVC in save percentage at .829 and her 1.22 GAA ranks fourth.
EXTENDING THE STREAK
Belmont has qualified for the OVC Tournament for a third straight season, the first time the Bruins have accomplished that feat since joining the league in 2012. It's only Belmont's second time reaching the postseason in back-to-back-to-back seasons (2007-09, as members of the Atlantic Sun Conference) overall.
STILL SEARCHING FOR NO. 1
Belmont is making its fourth appearance in the OVC Tournament in seven years in the conference, but the Bruins are still searching for their first win. Belmont is 0-2-1 in the OVC Tournament. The Bruins are 3-5-4 all time in postseason play with this year marking their eighth overall postseason appearance.
Belmont has drawn the No. 6 seed for the second time in its OVC Tournament history. The last time the Bruins were sixth in the OVC tourney was in 2016 when Belmont lost 3-0 to No. 3 Tennessee Tech back when only six teams made the conference tournament. The Bruins have also been the No. 5 seed (2012) and the No. 4 seed (2017).
The Bruins and Redhawks are meeting for the fourth time in the past two seasons. Belmont is 2-0-1 in those games, including a 2-1 win in 2OT barely a week ago. The lone draw turned into a tournament elimination due to penalty kicks in last year's OVC bracket though.
This will be the first time the 20-year history of Belmont women's soccer that the Bruins will play the same team in back-to-back games. The Bruins are 3-4-4 when playing a team for the second time in a single season.
GOOD MATCHUPS WAITING
Belmont's potential first two games of the OVC Tournament would be both against teams the Bruins beat this year. Along with the opening rounder vs. SEMO, BU could play Eastern Illinois with a second win against the Redhawks. The Bruins beat No. 3 seed EIU, 3-1, earlier this year on the road on the same field that Sunday's OVC Quarterfinals would take place.
EXTRA TIME, EXTRA FUN
Belmont won its second double-overtime game of the season last week with a 2-1 victory vs. SEMO. The Bruins also beat LIU Brooklyn 2-1 back in September. The Bruins are now 2-0-2 in games that have gone to overtime.
The win vs. SEMO was Belmont's first this season when trailing at halftime (1-7-0). Conversely, the Bruins are 5-1-2 when leading or tied at the half. They were just 1-7-1 when allowing their opponent to score first this year.
SPREAD THE WEALTH
Twelve Bruins have combined to score Belmont's 18 goals this season -- Julie Garst is the lone player to score more than one goal (7) -- and the Bruins have had 16 players in all record at least one point. The team's 15 assists are spread over 11 players with Jessi Boozer, Kameron Ziesig, Grace Parsons and Garst all with two apiece.
SHOOTING UP THE RANKINGS
Sophomore forward Julie Garst ranks 33rd in the NCAA with 4.00 shots per game. She's second in the OVC in both shots per game and total shots (64). Her seven goals are tied for sixth and she's tied for seventh with 16 points