BOWLING GREEN, Ky.- Following two exhibition matches, the score now becomes real.
The Bruins open the 2019 campaign with three straight road games, starting at Western Kentucky on Thursday at 7 p.m.
"Right now, it's about focusing on our topics, where our themes have been, what is our buildup, what have we done since day one of being here up to today," head coach Heather Henson said.
After last Friday's exhibition match against Chattanooga, the team headed for a weekend trip to Pigeon Forge to grow team chemistry. While the team still had training sessions, the trip allowed them to bond as a unit and enjoy in-cabin activities such as billiards, arcade games, Mario Kart and roasting smores at night.
According to team veterans, the team chemistry for 2019 is unlike any other team they have been on.
"Once we get here, as soon as the freshmen get here, we all mesh together so well," senior Niki Clements said. "Once we're here, (the coaches) implement in practice, in our talks and in the beginning of preseason and making sure that family is a huge part of what we do every single day. Otherwise, who are you playing for?"
Even though Western Kentucky is looking to improve after a 5-8-4 season, but have two exhibition victories against Murray State and Austin Peay to start its season. The Lady Toppers scored a combined five goals in those two exhibition wins, with their top scorer from 2018, Ambere Barnett (seven goals, 22 points), returning following an All-Conference USA first team campaign last season.
The Bruins understand that a key to success will be creating shot opportunities. Even though they were held to one shot against Vanderbilt in the first exhibition match, Belmont improved against Chattanooga to create seven shot opportunities.
"We really want to get back to the grassroots of what Belmont soccer was when I first got here," head coach Heather henson said. "We want to possess with a purpose and the ultimate goal is to create attacking opportunities and score goals. That's the ultimate purpose. That's the ultimate goal."
Belmont is looking to continue its strong set of season openers, having a record of 3-1-1 in the last five seasons. This is the second time in the last three years that the Bruins have faced a Conference USA opponent in their season opener, defeating Middle Tennessee 3-2 in 2017.
Although the Bruins have set the tone with the season opener, Belmont understands that getting their first win in program history against Western Kentucky sets the tone for accomplishing their later season goals.
"The process and journey is long. It's about leadership, it's about culture, but it's about where we're striving to be," Henson said. "I let our seniors talk about their legacy goals and their team, senior legacy goal is to be in the OVC conference tournament all four years and do better than we've done in the conference tournament and to win it."
SCOUTING WESTERN KENTUCKY
Western Kentucky is coming off a 5-8-4 season, having won or finishing tied in five of its last six matches. This stretch included tying No. 24 North Texas in double overtime. The Lady Toppers were a young team in 2018, with Western Kentucky looking to use that previous experience into an improved 2019 season.
The Lady Toppers are led by Ambere Barnett, who led the team in scoring with seven goals, eight assists and 22 points on her way to being tabbed on the Conference USA All-Conference First Team All-Freshman team. Olivia Stanley also poses as an offensive weapon, scoring four goals and contributing 10 points last season. Ashley Leonard is an experienced starter, scoring three goals and collecting six points in 2018. Western Kentucky also has its returning goalkeeper in Bailee Witt, who came up with 58 saves and played in all 17 matches as a freshman.