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Bruin Vision: Belmont’s growing soccer culture

Nashville is a growing soccer city — and Belmont is headed in the same direction. 

“It is an exciting time to be in Nashville with the new Major League Soccer team and the overall growth of the soccer community,” wrote David Costa, head soccer coach for Belmont University. 

“The game is growing at all levels with so many players in recreational teams, competitive youth clubs, and strong high school programs, not to mention the abundance of adult soccer leagues that people can take part in.”

On Feb. 29, Nashville Soccer Club played its inaugural game at Nissan Stadium in front of 59,000 fans. Three months earlier, Belmont women’s soccer played North Carolina in the NCAA tournament, while Belmont men’s soccer played UNC Greensboro in the conference semifinal.

All three teams lost. And Belmont’s games didn’t draw nearly as many onlookers as Nashville SC — but each moment provided insight into the direction Nashville and Belmont are headed. 

The Bruins’ developing passion for soccer is indicative of programs that are changing with its city. And much like the Nashville SC, the Bruins are doubling down on their investment in the sport. 

The game is growing — and Belmont is taking on some of the responsibility for helping it grow in Nashville.

Before the 2019 season, Belmont Women’s soccer last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2008. Since 2008, there’s been one coaching change: the hiring of now long-standing head coach Henson in 2011. 

She’s been a pillar of stability and provided clear expectations for the athletes she coached. And last season the continued investment in her coaching abilities paid off. 

After seven seasons of coming up short in conference play, the team finally got over the hump, and Belmont’s continued belief in Henson was vindicated

But coaches aren’t the only ones that win games — players do, too. 

And last season’s Bruins team was special, with players like Julie Garst. She etched her name in the record books with three game-winning goals in one season. 

She, alongside Rachel Vernon, Grace Parsons, Avery Nowak and Claire Fallon all sit in the top 10 for most minutes played in a single season, according to the Belmont Women’s soccer record book. 

Henson trusts those girls; and when the game’s on the line, in the most crucial moments, they pull through. 

With each of them returning for a potential spring season, things seem to be shaping up well for the women’s soccer program at Belmont — after all, that season has the potential to be a great one.

The same can be said for the men’s soccer program.

In the four years before Costa’s arrival, the Bruins played in exactly one conference tournament match.

In the single season Costa’s been at the helm, the team has won double the amount it previously played in.  

Costa spoke to the Vision for a story earlier in the year, and in that interview, he touched on the necessity of framing what he and the players do at Belmont through the lens of making the program better.

“Belmont soccer, can you make it better because you are here, because the people you interact with, because of the impact you had on your teammates,” said Costa. 

“You served each other, and you’ve served other people. That’s the mission we have asked from everyone.” 

It’s this mission Costa holds as a priority, and which contributed to the team’s surprise conference tournament success. 

The mission statement also provides insight into why Belmont brought Costa in, in the first place. He is someone who aims to build Belmont’s soccer brand through upholding a constant standard of success. 

Equally so, the 2019 Bruins had its fair share of standout performers on the pitch. One of those spectacular performers was forward Niccolo Dagnoni.

His 2019 campaign saw him finish tied for first in single-season assists with nine, tied for eighth in single-season goals with eight and sit third in points produced with 24.

Players like Dagnoni are the type coaches can build growing programs around. And with him returning for another season, Belmont can continue building towards the goal of having a dominant soccer program in the Southern Conference.

That’s something Costa wants feverishly.

“We hope to develop Belmont Men’s Soccer into a destination for elite players in Nashville that desire the opportunity to play at a high level while investing in the University.”

The 2020 sports calendar year has been a strange one, but for the most part, the MLS is back on in Nashville, meaning Nashville SC is continuing to bank on the growing soccer culture around the city. 

Belmont’s soccer season, for both programs, currently sits in limbo due to the pandemic. But when the season does eventually kick-off, both programs are banking on the growing soccer culture around Belmont.

With Henson and Costa in charge of their respective teams, and with teams as talented as both the women’s and men’s programs are on paper, it feels as though Belmont soccer is finally turning a corner and on a pathway for long-term success. 

The Bruins are embracing Nashville’s soccer mania.

This article written by Ian Kayanja.

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