• Lillie Burke

British duo holds strong for the Bruin backline

Sophomore Sam Black and freshman Nat Hubert have more in common than their position as defenders for Belmont men’s soccer. Both players were born and raised in the United Kingdom.

“It was the first sport I learned to play and played it from as soon as I could walk. I think it definitely added aspects to my game,” said Black, a sophomore. “The game in England is a lot more aggressive and makes me more of a tenacious player.”

The two defenders have started in all nine games so far this season, recording two shutouts. The Bruin defense has only allowed an average of one goal per game including preseason matches.

On the other end of the pitch, Black has notched one assist while Hubert scored his first collegiate goal in the Lipscomb Invitational last month.

“They are hard workers and have good level of focus,” said Belmont coach Earle Davidson. “Personality-wise they are open to different scenarios. Their personalities are different but at same time they are not afraid to get their feet wet and extend themselves.”

While Black and Hubert have followed a similar trajectory since arriving, their path to Belmont couldn’t be more different.

When he came to the states, Black began his collegiate career playing Division-II at McMurry University in Texas.

While there were good players on the team, Black’s desire to play Division I soccer turned his attention to Belmont and he contacted the coaching staff about transferring to the program.

“The whole point of me moving from the UK to the US was to play at a higher level. I thought Belmont and D-1 soccer could do that for me,” said the Douglas, an Isle of Man native. “It’s a higher standard of practice and training, and the infrastructure as a whole has really impressed me.”

The process for Hubert was a bit different.

The freshman central defender was not on Belmont’s radar until a recruitment agency contacted the team.

After deciding to take a closer look, the Chichester, England native caught Davidson’s eye.

“I had a phone call with the guy who runs the company. He was very adamant that Nat was different,” Davidson said. “His references were terrific, and I got to see some very good match video and couple of scenarios. He fit what we were looking for.”

The road to Belmont may have varied for each, but the backgrounds of both Black and Hubert have helped them make an immediate impact on the pitch for the Bruins.

“They come from good soccer backgrounds and think the game well,” Davidson said. “Even though it’s a new situation and different style of play, they are very comfortable with the game in itself.”

While the dominating program style has been heavily focused on midfield possession, the Bruins were in need of replacements for top defenders Austin Embry and Bradley Shuck, who graduated.

“They have integrated into our style of play well and have embraced it. They brought a couple of things we really wanted in this recruiting class.”

Being comfortable with the game and each other has made it easier for Black and Hubert to transition and integrate themselves with the rest of the backline.

“We have a good relationship. Obviously he’s British as well, which kind of helps you settle in,” Hubert said. “Charlie [Dankert] is next to me as well and has a big influence. I’ve blended in really well and enjoyed being part of that back five.”

Black echoed the understanding between the defense.

“I enjoy playing with Nat. We have a good relationship together, and the backline as a whole works well together,” Black said. “The communication between the backline all together is key. But I think Nat and I have a good understanding between us two especially.”

Part of that understanding between the defenders relates back to the style of play both grew up learning in the United Kingdom, which does contrast with Division I soccer.

Hubert said the big difference between the two styles is the types of forwards the backline deals with when facing opponents.

“In England, you have the typical stereotype of bully upfront and isn’t particularly fast but very strong,” Hubert said. “Over here, there are lots of South Americans who are speedy and not so much power but lot of pace and skill. It’s good playing a different variety of players.”

Despite defending a different style of offense, there are still two crucial elements of defending that the backline has to do in game time situations, including the ability to not make mistakes according to Black.

“If you’re a defender and make a mistake, it can be critical for the team,” Black said. “If I make a mistake in the back, the forward can be through and score. That can decide the game.”

The backline must also not overlook its relationship with the ball, something all defenders must work on, said Hubert.

“It has so much to do with anticipation, which is overlooked. It’s not about making the big challenges or headers; it’s where you are in relation to the ball,” he said.

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