NASHVILLE, Tenn.- With the regular season opener one week away, the Belmont women's soccer team has one more exhibition match to practice game-like situations.
The Bruins face Chattanooga on Friday at Rose Park at 6:30 p.m., turning focus onto creating offensive opportunities.
"We want to continue to build on our preseason topics," head coach Heather Henson said. "We always start with defense and how we organize defensively and we want to continue to build now transitioning into the attacking side. We want to be able to create those opportunities, connect the first pass and generate our attack out of it. So, it's really completing that full picture of preseason as we continue to fine tune things up."
Chattanooga faces the Bruins for the fourth time in the last five years during the exhibition season, with Belmont having a record of 1-1-1 in the last three exhibition matches. The Mocs finished with an 8-8-3 record last season and have 80% of their scoring returning, including leading scorer (11 goals) and All-OVC first team member Chloe Arnold.
Henson scheduled Chattanooga as part of the exhibition season once again not only because she respects the program, but she also knows that the Mocs will treat the exhibition like a regular season match.
"(Head coach) Gavin (McKinney) is a good friend. He's a quality coach. He always brings a quality team out. They're going to come, they're going to fight, they're going to battle and continue to play their game," Henson said. "I like the fact that he'll bring different challenges to us as well as we'll bring different challenges to them.
"Gavin just does a really good job of organizing his team and motivates them for an in-state exhibition game. I always like (scheduling) them because it's a good, quality game."
Coming off Sunday's game against No. 17 Vanderbilt, the Bruins feel confident in their defense and believe they can play with any team in the country. Senior goalkeeper Lily Herman had a career-high 10 saves against the Commodores, the most saves since Oct. 12, 2018 when she collected nine against UT-Martin.
With the performance from the defense and Herman, veteran defenders already notice the improved play in the preseason.
"I was telling some of the people in the athletic department the other day that I think we're so many steps ahead from where we were last year at this time," junior defender Grace Parsons said. "I think from a defensive effort as a whole, it's on another level that we've never been to since I've been here and I think that's great. If we continue to take steps forward, we will be hard to score on."
Chattanooga plays similar to a handful of teams in the OVC, giving Belmont quality preparation for conference play. After playing a ranked team on Sunday and Chattanooga on Friday, the Bruins feel they are as prepared as they could be for the season opener in one week.
"They're similar to teams we play in the conference and we're also very evenly matched with them as we went back and forth with them over the last couple of years," senior forward/middle Niki Clements said. "It's good preparation going into the conference because it's a team we might be seeing in the future as well."
The Mocs are coming off an 8-8-3 season, finishing 4-3-2 in SoCon play. Despite coming up with eight wins, Chattanooga ended its season with a sour taste. The Mocs lost three of their last four matches, including a conference tournament first round loss to VMI to end the season.Chattanooga, however, has 80 percent of its scoring from 2018 returning and has all five players who made the all-conference team coming back.
Chattanooga is led by Chloe Arnold, who led the Mocs with 11 goals and 27 points last season. Bailey Gale and Lauren Dluzewski also serve as offensive threats, scoring three goals each and combining for 44 points last season. Ashton Shields leads the Mocs in the goal, who allowed just 12 goals and allowed just under one goal per match. Shields came up with 55 saves with a save percentage of .821, helping the Mocs to six shutouts in the process.