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Preview: Women’s basketball gears up for another outstanding season

Coming off the most successful string of seasons the program has ever seen, coach Bart Brooks will look to lead the Bruins to a fourth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament.

In the 2017-2018 season, Belmont finished with an overall record of 31-4 and a conference record of 18-0. The Bruins have also won 34 straight games in the Ohio Valley Conference, going undefeated for the past two seasons.

On top of this, the team was ranked for the first time ever in the Associated Press top 25 poll. At their highest point, the Bruins were ranked No. 22 in the poll.

For the 2018-2019 preseason rankings, Belmont received two votes but did not make it into the top 25.

The Bruins will have an exciting season, as they are the favorites to win the conference but will be working without some of their key players from last season.

The team lost three very important players in Kylee Smith, Sierra Jones and Sally McCabe. The team will especially miss McCabe’s height on a team that’s mostly made up of smaller players.

“We’re vertically challenged,” said Brooks. “So, we have smaller players, different players. So, we’re going to have to play a little differently. We’re going to have to do some different things offensively and defensively.”

In spite of these losses, Belmont can still count on a number of seniors who have experience winning in high-stakes moments, including senior Darby Maggard, one of the biggest playmakers on the court for the Bruins.

Last season, Maggard made the All-OVC First team after averaging 16.6 points per game and 41.2 percent from the 3-point line. She was voted the OVC Preseason Player of the Year and will need to play at the same level she did all of last season if the Bruins are going to win the OVC.

Seniors Jenny Roy and Maura Muensterman will also need to have impressive seasons if the team wants to make up for the points that Smith — who led the team in points per game — scored.

“I think that we’re going to have a really good year,” Roy said. “And I want to win the conference tournament again and go to the NCAA. The past three years we’ve done it, so four for four would be a really cool thing as a senior.”

The Bruins also added six freshmen this season. Of those freshmen, Conley Chinn, Maddie Cook, Allison Luly and Grace Smith all redshirted last season and had the opportunity to learn from an experienced and successful team. They’re also joined by two true freshmen, Macie Culbertson and Jamilyn Kinney.

Notable Non-Conference Games

Nov. 7 at North Carolina State University — The Bruins will start their season on the road against No. 17 NC State. NC State made it to the Sweet 16 in the 2018 NCAA tournament and may be the toughest opponent Belmont faces all season.

Dec. 4 vs. Lipscomb — Belmont will face off against local rival Lipscomb as Belmont looks to win its seventh Battle of the Boulevard in a row.

Dec. 30 at University of Tennessee — Tennessee, currently ranked No. 11, has made the NCAA tournament every year since 1982 and has built a reputation as one of the most legendary programs in women’s basketball.

Notable Conference Games

Jan. 3 vs. Jacksonville State — The Bruins will kick off conference play in the Curb Event Center against the Gamecocks, who are picked to place third in the conference in the OVC preseason poll. The last time the two teams faced off, Belmont beat the Gamecocks in the conference tournament semifinals.

Feb. 2 vs. University of Tennessee at Martin — The OVC tournament final rematch will be the most exciting game in Belmont’s conference schedule. The Skyhawks were picked second in the OVC Preseason Poll and received three first place votes.

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