It’s been over 10 years, but the Belmont women’s soccer team is heading back to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins are set to play No. 1 seed the University of North Carolina as announced in a selection show watch party at the Frist Lecture Hall Monday. The tournament selection came after the Bruins won their first Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in penalty kicks against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“It’s such a special time,” said junior Julie Garst. “Coming into the season, our number one goal is going to the OVC Tournament and winning it. And this year, actually winning it and make that dream a reality is a really special feeling.”
Belmont’s road to Chapel Hill began in October as they turned around an unimpressive record of 2-7-2. A three-game win streak starting in November helped build the momentum that led to a playoff spot which they clinched with a 1-0 win against Austin Peay University. They played the Governors again just a week later in the first round of the OVC tournament, where they again defeated Austin Peay 1-0.
In Heather Henson’s ninth season as head coach, she reflected on the journey of the team’s eight seniors and how they came together to lead the team to NCAA Tournament.
“They didn’t just lead from the front, they led from the middle and they led from behind,” said Henson. “Their perseverance and the glory to God, because we realize that he’s given us special gifts.”
Senior goalkeeper Lily Herman had one of the best performances in the tournament and was monumental in the Bruins’ road to the OVC championship, giving up only six goals in the last seven games and only three in the team’s four playoff victories.
Herman knew that the road was tough, but focused on playing one game at a time.
“Honestly we’ve just taken it game by game,” said Herman. “I think we’ve just tried to make the most of each game.”
While UNC will be an entertaining game, the Bruins will have to play one of the most decorated programs in women’s soccer history. The Tarheels have quite a track record in the NCAA Tournament, winning 21 of the 31 national championships contested. They also have a perfect record at home with nine wins and are ranked second in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Ranking.
Though North Carolina may be one of the toughest opponents this group of players has ever faced, Henson knows the team needs to go back to the routine that has worked and brought them this far, she said.
“Tomorrow we get back to work with the ladies,” said Henson. “They are iconic and it’s going to be iconic for us to get this opportunity.”
Photo by Sam Simpkins, courtesy of Office of Communications