Following two-straight seasons of March Madness appearances, Belmont women’s basketball tips off against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Wednesday night in the Curb Event Center.
The Bruins received national recognition over the offseason, ranking No. 24 in Sports Illustrated’s Preseason Women’s Basketball Top 25 list.
Belmont also received a program-high 14 votes in the preseason Associated Press Top-25 poll.
With anticipation brewing since their second-round exit to the University of Tennessee on March 21, the Bruins look forward to taking the floor again.
“I think our players, rather than having a feeling of accomplishment, there was more of a hunger and desire to do more and that’s fueled their offseason,” head coach Bart Brooks said. “They’ve done a really good job at staying hungry.”
With a “one step at a time” approach embedded into the soul of the squad, the Bruins are ready to debut in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“Obviously for us, every game is going to feel like a non-conference game for this first year being in a new conference and there’s some stable programs that have been around for a long time,” Brooks said. “But it’ll be new to us, and it’ll be a learning curve and hopefully our players will be prepared for it.”
Despite it being Belmont’s first season in the MVC, the team sits as a favorite to win the conference.
But before facing MVC opponents, the Bruins will play a challenging non-conference schedule such as power-five programs No. 7 ranked University of Louisville on Nov. 13, No. 4 University of Iowa on Nov. 20 and the University of Georgia on Dec. 17.
The Bruins will also compete in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida, where they will begin the tournament against Villanova University on Nov. 25.
“We’re going to see a lot of different looks and play against some really talented players and that will prepare us for what we have ahead of us in the conference season and hopefully success will follow because of those situations we put ourselves in,” Brooks said.
Returning to the floor, senior Nikki Baird, juniors Destinee Wells, Tuti Jones, Madison Bartley and sophomores Tessa Miller and Kilyn McGuff look to serve as impact players.
Wells, who was named Ohio Valley Conference Tournament MVP during her freshman and sophomore seasons, was selected as the 2022-23 MVC Preseason Player of the Year.
The Bruins also added several more experienced players to the roster such as transfers Sydni Harvey and Kendal Cheesman with the addition to first-years Brooke Highmark, Kate Hollifield and Caroline Bachus.
The team will make its MVC debut on Dec. 30 as it hosts Valparaiso University before facing the University of Illinois Chicago two days later.
The Bruins will then play three-straight road games against Drake University, the University of Illinois Chicago and Murray State University before hosting defending MVC champion Illinois State University on Jan. 15.
Remaining at home, Belmont will face off against Missouri State University on Jan. 20 and Southern Illinois University on Jan 22.
The squad will then head to Indiana where they will face-off against Indiana State University and the University of Evansville.
During the month of February, the Bruins host Murray State on Feb. 2, Evansville on Feb. 10, Indiana State on Feb. 12, the University of Northern Iowa on Feb. 23 and Drake on Feb. 25.
They will travel to Bradley University on Feb. 5, Southern Illinois on Feb. 17 and Missouri State on Feb. 19.
The Bruins will close out their regular season with two away games against UIC on March 2 and Valparaiso on March 4.
With a highly competitive schedule lurking ahead, Wells is optimistic about how the team is shaping up.
“Right now, I feel like we look pretty good. I feel confident about taking us to the MVC and hopefully winning it. I think the newbies are fitting in really well and I feel like they can help us make a long run in the tournament,” Wells said. “I feel really good about this year.”
PHOTO: Junior guards Destinee Wells (right) and Tuti Jones (left) at the Missouri Valley Conference Women's Basketball Tipoff. Courtesy of Belmont Athletics.
This article was written by A.J. Wuest