NASHVILLE, Tenn.- The Belmont women's soccer team sent its eight seniors out with one final home victory on Sunday against Austin Peay, winning 1-0 at Rose Park on Senior Day in front of record-breaking crowd of 513 fans.
The win put Belmont in sixth place in the conference standings, allowing them to clinch its fourth straight OVC Tournament appearance. Belmont's 2019 senior class is the first group of seniors in program history to reach the OVC Tournament all four years.
"It's been a goal that this senior class had when their freshman year ended," head coach Heather Henson said. "That was one of the very first things I asked them was, 'What legacy do you want to leave with this program?' They said, 'We want to be in the OVC Tournament all four years.' I'm so excited and thrilled for them. We've overcome a lot and dealt with a lot of things and they have led in so many great ways. I'm so excited that they were able to attain that goal."
With all six active seniors being placed in the starting 11, including a first career start for Hannah Diaz, Henson wanted to make sure that the other two seniors who could not play due to injury had one final moment on the Rose Park field. She set up an honorary kickoff for seniors MacKenzie Firek and Jordan Chawan, who kicked the ball to each other before kicking it out of bounds for a restart.
While Firek and Chawan were unable to play in Sunday's match due to injury, getting to step onto the field at Rose Park one more time created a memory that will last a lifetime.
"It was a lot of emotion," Chawan said. "I love soccer. That's why I came back to Belmont to play. Being on the field again is a rush of emotions and adrenaline, which I never thought I would have again. (The kickoff) meant a lot because I love the game so much. It's something that you can't really replace."
Using the senior presentation and the honorary kickoff as motivation to open the first half, Belmont quickly controlled the offensive momentum. After firing a quick shot that just missed by hitting the crossbar two minutes into the first half, the Bruins capitalized off their second shot three minutes later.
Julie Garst fired a ball past the Austin Peay defense, finding the foot of senior Niki Clements inside the penalty area to knock it in the back of the net to give the Bruins the go-ahead lead. The goal was Clements' fifth on the season and Garst collected her third assist on the year.
"It feels awesome. I didn't want to go out with a loss at Rose Park," Clements said. "The build-up to the goal was awesome and involved the whole team. We came out fired up and didn't let emotions get in the way."
Needing 85 minutes of shutout defense to cap off the last home match with a win, Belmont's defense delivered. After senior goalkeeper Lily Herman made three saves in the first half, Austin Peay fired two shots just under 10 minutes into the second half that looked to tie the match at one. Herman, however, made two diving saves to protect the Bruins' lead.
Austin Peay registered another shot in the 63rd minute, but Belmont prevented any shot opportunities from the Governors for the final 27 minutes that allowed the Bruins to claim its fourth win in OVC play.
"I'm not going to lie, it's a little bit more nerve-wracking being here (at Rose Park) for the last time," Herman said. "I'm not used to being nervous for a game and I was nervous for this game. You have the adrenaline running. You have to take care of it and do what you have to do and that's what we did today."
Belmont is the No. 6 seed in the OVC Tournament, getting a rematch with No. 7 seed Austin Peay on Friday at 3 p.m. in Martin, Tenn. The winner faces No. 3 seed UT Martin on Sunday in the quarterfinals.