Belmont’s 2021 softball season is about to be in full swing.
With the 2020 season cut short due to COVID-19 precautions — and to ensure the safety of all players and coaches — the Bruins haven’t played a game since March 11, 2020. Now, the wait is finally over as Belmont prepares to take on the University of Mississippi in the Trojan Classic on Saturday.
Since the 2020 season, the Bruins have also made a change in the coaching department, bringing in former Wright State Raiders softball coach Laura Matthews to guide the team through this unprecedented season.
The new opportunity for Matthews brings excitement for her personally, and she looks forward to getting the regular season going as well as working alongside her team and coaching staff, she said.
“I just believe in wholeheartedly getting to work with some tremendous people, first and foremost,” Matthews said. “I’m completely grateful for the opportunity and really excited to get started with our team.”
Preparing for a new season under regular circumstances is taxing, but new COVID-19 guidelines present an added challenge. Yet Belmont hasn’t let the difficulties limit their preseason training or stop them from bonding as a team.
“There have been some ups and downs, right as of every preseason,” Matthews said. “It looks very different than it has in the past, with different protocols we have in place to keep our players safe. So it’s been a little bit more challenging, getting to know people.”
“I think we are excited to get out on the field, it’s been a really long time for all of us though. And the girls have just worked so hard. And I can’t wait to see all of their work.”
The Bruins certainly have their work cut out for them this season.
In the 2020 season, Belmont finished 5-14. Such a difficult start to the year reflected directly in the Ohio Valley Conference’s preseason poll, with the Bruins projected to finish 10th in the league by coaches and OVC member schools’ sports information directors.
But with 11 players returning from last year’s team, five of whom are seniors, having an experience factor bodes well for Belmont.
Pitcher Alicia Veltri is one of these seniors who is expected to lead the Bruins throughout the season. Though she was out during the 2020 season with a shoulder injury, the OVC named her a player to watch for Belmont.
“It’s an honor to be named,” Veltri said. “But honestly, I owe a lot of it to my teammates as well, because I wouldn’t do as well as I do if it weren’t for them behind me.”
Though the preseason nomination gave Veltri a vote of confidence, she and her teammates look toward the regular season to judge success. Most importantly, everyone is just ready to start playing again.
“On the field, we’ve been practicing almost every day,” Veltri said. “I think we’re all ready to start playing and we’re really excited.”
Belmont softball is motivated to compete at a high level and prove those who doubted the team wrong. And for everyone involved, the only goal now is to compete for an OVC championship.
“I think our number one goal is to make it to the OVC tournament,” Veltri said. “I think we’ve been known to be an underdog. We want to be known as the scrappy team that can fight back into the tournament and do pretty well.”
This article written by Hanley Riggs.