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SEASON RECAP: Belmont women’s basketball makes noise in its first season in the Valley

Belmont women's basketball proved itself as a top team in the Missouri Vally Conference this season. Ben Burton/Belmont Vision

From an appearance in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 to their launch into the Missouri Valley Conference, the Belmont women’s basketball team has experienced a lot in over the past two seasons.

After a victory over the University of Oregon and a tight game against the University of Tennessee in March Madness, the Bruins had their eyes set on bigger things for the 2022-23 season.

Making its MVC debut, Belmont earned its way to a 23-12 overall record, ending the regular season on a 16-game winning streak headed into the conference tournament.

But the season didn’t look so promising at the start.

The Bruins began the regular season strong for their first game against the University of Chattanooga, making a huge comeback inside the Curb Event Center to defeat the Mocs 56-54.

Then, a rough patch emerged.

The Bruins struggled with a four-game losing streak in November including a loss to a nationally ranked University of Louisville 75-70.

And things continued to get worse.

In early December when Belmont hosted, Georgia Tech game, the Bruins lost Tuti Jones to an injury.

“I think it was something we tried not to talk about a lot because everyone inside the program knew how much we missed her spark, her energy, competitiveness and her ability to change the game on the defensive side of the ball,” head coach Bart Brooks said. “We were playing without our best defender on the floor.”

Jones did not play for the rest of the season, but three Bruins stepped in and took on larger roles in her absence.

Tessa Miller, Kilyn McGuff and Madison Bartley all changed the tide of the season with their play.

“I think Tessa’s emotional energy and her competitiveness was something that was contagious, and our team took on her personality,” Brooks said. “We started to compete like Tessa, and she was a leader of that, whether she scored points or got rebounds or defensive stops she was always competing.”

The Bruins also started to get key contributions from their transfers; graduate student Sydni Harvey and sophomore Kendal Cheesman.

Both helped the Belmont pile on points from behind the arc.

Harvey drained a Curb Event Center record 10 threes on Dec. 20 when the Bruins hosted Troy University.

Cheesman nailed 39 total three pointers on the season.

After hosting the Missouri State Lady Bears in January, the Bruins dominated the rest of their season with a massive winning streak.

With the definite energy shift, Belmont headed into the Hoops in the Heartland Tournament with a share of the regular season conference championship.

The Bruins defeated Southern Illinois and the University of Northern Iowa while playing in Moline, Illinois.

But then their luck ran out.

In the championship game, the Bulldogs from Drake University were too much to handle as they defeated Belmont 89-71.

Despite the loss, there was still more basketball to be played for the women’s team.

Awarded a chance to play again at the Women’s Invitational Tournament in Muncie, Indiana against Ball State University, the Bruins ultimately fell 101-86.

“Although we had a lot of positive things go our way this year, we’re extremely disappointed in how it ended, and we know there’s better basketball ahead of us," Brooks said.

Looking ahead, changes are already happening on Brooks’ team.

Bartley and Wells, who both were named First Team All-MVC and were 1,000 point scorers, will not be playing for the Bruins next season.

The remaining Bruins are looking ahead to next season.

"We’ve got to work, and we’ve got to all get better,” Brooks said.

This season was only a tease of what Belmont women’s basketball can do in its new conference.

This article was written by Catarina Da Rocha.

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