Updated: Sep 20
Belmont’s men’s soccer program capped off its best conference season to date after the Southern Conference wrapped up regular season play Saturday.
Going into the postseason, the Bruins rank third in SoCon with an 11-4-2 record that includes a victory over tournament favorite — University of North Carolina Greensboro.
“The biggest highlight that represents all the work that we’ve done was the win against UNCG,” said senior forward Niccolo Dagnoni. “Being able to win and show why we were the better team. That moment was the biggest thing for me.”
The team went above and beyond in that game, rallying back in the second half to stun the No. 1 seeded team in the conference with a pair of goals from Liam O’Brien and AJ Chastonay.
Satisfied with his team’s performance this season, head coach David Costa said the Belmont men are building themselves up well.
“We accomplished a lot of goals we had set out in terms of continuing to improve on last year’s success,” he said. “I think we got better all year and that’s really what we wanted to do.”
A part of Belmont’s success in recent years, including this season, is thanks to an overall shift in game mentality, Costa said.
“A good bit of last year we were trying to be good. We’re just trying to be a good team, and now, the guys just believe we’re a good team,” he said.
“Everyone is just on the same page, doing the work together.”
The team’s core of leadership and experience makes for an important part of the successful season too.
“We have great internal leadership within our team,” Costa said. “ When you have a group of upperclassmen who emphasize your culture and really live it every day, the results kind of fall in place.”
This season has also brought some new challenges for Costa’s team. The Bruins took on three nationally ranked teams this season in games against Missouri State University, Lipscomb University and UNCG. Belmont lost, tied and won in those contests respectively.
Costa used the games to measure how his squad stands against NCAA tournament-caliber teams.
“We played that schedule for a reason, and it definitely hardened us a little bit for the year,” said Costa.
With thickened skin from high-level games, the Bruins have kept an undefeated streak at Rose Park, winning all nine of their home games. Costa believes that geography has been important to the team’s win streak, and that the success on the home turf has played into the team’s morale.
“The field is very fast and a lot of the teams we play are used to playing on grass,” Costa said. “Most teams are just better at home. The guys have bought into this in saying this is going to be the hardest place in the country for people to come play.”
The team’s regular season also brought individual successes.
Liam O’Brien stands as the team’s lead scorer with the most successful season in his college career, landing at eight goals. Despite a personal best, O’Brien remains humble.
“It feels good whenever you can contribute to help the team win.” O’Brien said. “If you look back at all the goals, they’re all my teammates setting me up for success where it’s harder to not score than it is to score. I’m just fortunate to be in a position where I’m able to work off my teammates.”
Another standout player in the regular season is Niccolo Dagnoni. The co-captain has assisted eight goals and scored five of his own. Nonetheless, Dagnoni focuses on the bigger picture.
“Just the fact of being able to help the team out is amazing,” Dagnoni said. “Of course I’m happy about these individual goals, but they mean nothing, cause at the end of the day, what matters is what the team does.
The team will now prepare for the SoCon tournament to battle for a coveted automatic bid in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re just excited. We feel like we are kind of built for postseason play,” said Costa. “Our guys played every game like it was an important game, and now you get to the ones where you are only guaranteed one more, so I think that’s an important part to approach it like that and to know that and then enjoy the moments we have together.”
The Bruins will begin conference tournament play No. 5 seeded Eastern Tennessee State University on Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina.
PHOTO: No. 10 Niccolo Dagnoni on the E.S. Rose Park turf at the Sep. 18 win over ETSU. Belmont Vision / Jessica Mattsson.
This story was written by David Pang. Contributory reporting by Finn Birnie.