Bruin Vision: The road ahead for women’s basketball
Belmont women’s basketball built a pattern of success over the past six years – but with the graduation of Ellie Harmeyer, Maura Muensterman and Maddie Wright, the future is now unknown.
Harmeyer, Muensterman and Wright were integral pieces to championship Bruin teams over the past few seasons, but with them gone, Belmont basketball has to retool with the players that remain on the roster, and the freshman class set to make their mark come the season’s tip off.
The 2019-20 season didn’t end as the team had hoped, with a loss to Southeast Missouri in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament semi-final. The Bruins were favored in the matchup, but SEMO still managed to dismantle Belmont in a 114-99 game.
Belmont, last season, heavily relied on Harmeyer to carry the load offensively.
In her senior year campaign, Harmeyer finished top 25 in points per game in the country with 19.2, according to NCAA.com. She was also top five in rebounds per game grabbing an astounding 12.3. Unsurprisingly, she led the nation in double-doubles with 23 in 31 games played. She provided everything Belmont needed – and then some.
On the floor she was the engine that drove the Bruins; off the floor, she was the locker room leader her teammates could rally around.
Wright was the heart and soul of the team. Her long tenure in blue and white was typified by her consistency and unselfishness for the Bruins. She provided the effort and plays that often didn’t make it into the box score, said Belmont basketball coach Bart Brooks.
Muensterman, the steady hand that was counted on in key moments, helped solidify the Bruins three-point shooting.
No moment was more telling of this than when she hit a game-winning three-point jump shot to beat Lipscomb University.
The Dec. 11 meeting characterized her role for Belmont during her four-year career. She was a timely scorer who had a knack for the unthinkable on the game’s biggest stages. She was a performer who relished in an opportunity to conduct her magic. She played the game with no fear, taking big shots — and making them.
Losing three leaders is a huge hit for any team, but if history has proven one thing, it’s that Belmont does a great job of retooling and reshaping just in time for another postseason run.
The key returnees:
A majority of the 2019-20 season’s roster will be returning to play under Brooks.
A few important players returning are starting point guard Jamilyn Kinney, forward Conley Chinn and guard Kiki Britzmann.
For Kinney, the question remains as to whether she can take over games and do it consistently. Last season, when she was injured to start the year, Belmont’s offense struggled to get into their actions.
And an early record of 3-4 through seven games was to show for it.
When Kinney played, she allowed the team to play at its best, and coach Brooks knows that.
“We needed her to be on the floor last year, and I think that will be the case again this season,” said Brooks.
There was a clear lack of offensive creation and explosiveness on the perimeter, that existed when Kinney was on the floor. Her junior season is not only about reaching that next level – but staying there.
“I see more confidence in how she practices and how she leads our younger players. She understands the work and consistency required to compete at this level,” said Brooks.
Kinney will be assuming more of a leadership role on the team because it’s her third year, and her second as a starter. And given the handful of magnificent scoring outings sprinkled through her sophomore season, a leap forward should be expected.
Chinn is one of Belmont’s most interesting offensive players. She offers the team the length and size to play the forward position, while also offering a set of skills similar to a guard. She can handle the ball effectively and create her shot on drives to the basket.
But the most enamoring aspect of her game is her ability to stretch the floor.
She shoots 31% from behind the arc, and last season she ratcheted up the attempts per game to 5.1 from the previous year’s two. This shows growing confidence in her jump-shooting abilities, and it offers coach Brooks another wrinkle to add to his offensive gameplan.
The questions for her lie on the defensive end of the floor. If she can lock into shutting down her matchup for the night she can be a true leader on that side of the ball.
Her energy, effort and commitment to getting better are exciting to see. And she is expected to make a big impact all over the floor this season, said Brooks.
Britzmann’s game is a bit more of the unknown. She cracked the rotation last season due to injuries at the guard position. And in the majority of the 29 games she played in, she played well.
Her first career start came on Nov. 6 and in that game, she tallied nine points and two assists. She was poised and under control – seemingly undaunted by the moment. Belmont would go on to win that game against Chattanooga, but the underlying story of the game was her play.
Britzmann offers Belmont another look at the guard spot. She’s a bigger guard than Kinney, not as great of a playmaker, but she brings composure and intensity to the lineup.
She cares and she competes, and those are two things that coaches love.
The new five:
Belmont’s freshman class is loaded with talent. Women like Destinee Wells and Tuti Jones headline the newcomers, but Whitney Hay, Madison Bartley and Blair Schoenwald are no slouches either.
Wells comes to Belmont after finishing her high school career ranked as a four-star prospect and No. 81 on ESPN’s top 100 rankings. She was also listed as the No. 25 best prospect at her position in the country.
Her game brings dynamic playmaking to the team, and that will create ample opportunities for her teammates to score in their spots on the floor, Brooks said.
Jones arrives at Belmont after leading her high school team to a 29-0 record and a Class 5A state championship in her senior year. She comes in ranked as the No. 31 prospect in the nation at her position by ESPN.
What Jones brings to Belmont is energy and toughness that can only make her teammates better, Brooks said.
Bartley played at Fairmont High School in Ohio. She finished her career there as the No. 84 player in the nation, according to Prospect Nation. And she would be named the No. 12 best player at her position. She arrives at Belmont ranked as a four-star prospect.
Hay brings her scoring prowess to Belmont as she gears up for her freshman season. In high school, she scored 2,302 points in her career. And by her senior year, she was named to Courier Journal’s Kentucky All-State girls team. She is ranked as the No. 29 player at her position.
Schoenwald rounds out Belmont’s freshman class, and what she brings to the team is a winning mentality. In high school, she helped guide Brentwood Academy to four state championship appearances. She comes in as a proven winner and a three-star prospect, according to Prospect Nation.
This year’s freshman class is chock-full of impressive players who could play a significant role for the Bruins headed into the 2020-21 season.
“The five freshmen this season are all really talented and they have complementary skills that will allow them to fit well with our returners,” said Brooks. “They have been incredibly fun to coach and I can already tell with just a few weeks of practice that all five freshmen will be really good for our program.”
What to expect:
It’s difficult to say much right now. A schedule still has to be made, and games still have to be played. But again, if this year is like any other Belmont basketball year, the blend of seasoned veterans and young talent will provide a winning team.
There are still questions as to who exactly will replace Harmeyer’s production, Muensterman’s steady hand at the three-point line and Wright’s consistency. This year will look different than seasons past.
But their departures don’t take away from the talent this year’s Bruins team holds.
“We have lost really good players to graduation every year since I’ve been at Belmont, and I hope that trend continues because that means our players are getting better and playing their best at the end of their careers,” said Brooks.
Behind a slew of talented guards and combo forwards, Belmont might just find themselves competing for an Ohio Valley Conference championship yet again.
“We have a lot of talented pieces, and part of the fun of coaching is finding the formula each season to put our team in the best position to succeed,” said Brooks.
With that attitude, Belmont may just be alright.
This article written by Ian Kayanja.