SEASON PREVIEW: Women’s basketball will shoot higher than ever in final OVC season
The wait is over, and college ball is back.
Belmont women’s basketball will begin regular season play Tuesday, facing the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on the road before traveling to the University of Mississippi to take on the Rebels two days later.
Although Belmont is heavily favored to win the Ohio Valley Conferenc title in the 2021-22 season — its last go-around before switching to the Missouri Valley Conference — there is some challenging play in store, and the team hopes to make another run in the NCAA following the successes of last season.
In an unprecedented performance in 2020-21, the Belmont women claimed the university’s first NCAA tournament win, upsetting No. 5-seeded Gonzaga University in the first round.
“The momentum that we had last year, I think it was a great experience for everyone that was a part of it. It was an unbelievable memory that we’re gonna share and gonna have forever, but this really does feel like a new year where we’re kinda starting from scratch,” head coach Bart Brooks said.
After the program was disrupted by the pandemic, Brooks is excited he and his team can get back to focusing on the game.
“Everything seemed so challenging. I was a better coach at COVID protocols than I was at basketball last year,” he said. “So this year I feel like I’m coaching a lot more basketball.”
The team welcomes two newcomers this season — freshmen Kilyn McGuff and Tessa Miller — along with returning junior Kiki Britzmann, who missed last season due to a torn ACL.
Other returners include high-profile names like senior Conley Chinn and sophomore Destinee Wells.
Chinn received the 2020-21 Ohio Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year award, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average in the classroom as well as leading the Bruins on the court.
“If you could put a poster up of the player that you would like to be what embodies your program, it would be Conley Chinn,” Brooks said.
Veteran Wells shocked the basketball nation last year with her performance on the floor and was named the OVC Freshman of the Year.
“I think what is so impressive about what she did last year as a true freshman is that we counted and depended on her a lot and she always came through for us,” Brooks said. “Destinee had a real consistency and dependability to her game, and that’s rare for a freshman to have that level of consistency.”
Some key factors for success this season include learning how to better play together, senior guard Jamilyn Kinney said.
Kinney believes that once the team can tweak some minor problems, the Bruins will become a dominant force on the court, she said.
“We’re still trying to figure out pieces within our offense and defense, just learning how to share the ball and move together,” Kinney said. “And I think once we figure that part out, everything is gonna come very easily for us.”
“There’s going to be nights where some of us might not be shooting the ball well, but if we have that energy and effort, and everyone’s together, it moves mountains,” she said.
There is no doubt that the schedule is tough this season, as Belmont will face off against five Power Five conference schools before its OVC contests. But the Bruins aren’t worried.
“The more we can play and compete at that level, the better we can get at figuring out what we need to do to be at that level,” Brooks said. “And for us, I’m fearless about who we play and I ask our players to be fearless about who we play, and we’re excited about it.”
The schedule was in part designed to bring home senior players like Chinn and forward Allison Luly.
Luly is from Alpharetta, Georgia, and Chinn is from Jackson, Mississippi; Belmont will play Ole Miss on Nov. 11 Georgia Tech on Nov. 14, giving the athletes’ families and friends a chance to come out and support their players.
With Belmont facing Tennessee Tech University’s experienced roster and other competitive programs, the Bruins will have to bring their best game.
“I think it’s going to be one of the most competitive league races that we’ve had in recent history,” Brooks said.
Chinn is excited for the season and is ready to prove Belmont is a serious contender on the national stage.
“I just want to have the greatest year I can with my team and just for us to be as successful as we can, and to really show the NCAA that we belong with the best of the best,” she said.
Belmont will play its first home game of the season Nov. 18 against Alabama A&M University in the Curb Event Center. Tipoff will be at 6:30 p.m.
The women’s full schedule can be found at Belmont Athletics.
PHOTO: No. 11 Destinee Wells drives past a Tennessee Tech player at a Feb. 20 match-up. Belmont Athletics / Sam Simpkins
This story was written by A.J. Wuest. Contributory reporting by Jessica Mattsson.
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