After learning to navigate through the tough conference competition last year, the Belmont softball team returns to the field with newfound knowledge of what to expect in its second year in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“We were able to look at the quality of the other teams and learn some of their strengths and weaknesses,” said junior infielder Kirbie Ferrell. “It’s really nice to have that tool going into this year. We’re a little more prepared and comfortable.”
While the Bruins finished with only six conference wins last year, Belmont coach Chris Kuhlmeyer said that the team knows what its opponents are capable of this season.
“We know what we have to prepare for ahead of time and go into every game knowing we can lose any game with anyone or we can beat just about everybody,” Kuhlmeyer said. “It’s just who is going to show up with the attitude and effort we need to have to compete with them.”
Seven starters will return to the field for the Bruins led by the upperclassmen, including all-conference selections Kat Hollingsworth and Mia Vierra.
“This is our most experienced group overall from a starting lineup and depth standpoint since I’ve been here. We’re in a pretty good spot for natural growth of the program,” Kuhlmeyer said. “That maturity should come through in the end and show we got to keep playing the game from first inning to the seventh.”
Hollingsworth earned recognition for First Team All-OVC after placing in the top five in several offensive categories. The junior outfielder led the Bruins with a .390 batting average and 64 hits including 11 home runs last season.
Meanwhile, Vierra is one of six seniors who will play their final season in a Bruins uniform. Kuhlmeyer believes the seniors set the standard for how mature leaders of the program should be.
“They were my first recruiting class. They have been setting the standard all along,” Kuhlmeyer said. “They will be able to lead a team without us telling them to do this and do that.”
In the conference preseason poll, the Bruins were selected to finish fifth in the eastern division. Belmont will have an advantage as they host three of their divisional opponents at home this season including the OVC opener against Morehead State in March.
“We definitely play better at home than we have been on the road traditionally,” Kuhlmeyer said. “Hopefully that gives us the boost we need to get over the hump of this year and winning those closer games to push us up to the middle or top of the conference.”
In April, the Bruins will go on the road to face conference preseason No. 1 Jacksonville State. Kuhlmeyer said the Bruins will need to split the games on the road at the very least if they want to win the conference as the team hopes to do.
“Conference tournament is where we want to be at the end of the year,” Ferrell said. “It’s going to take going out to each game with a fresh mindset, fresh legs and playing our hardest.”
Belmont will begin its season this weekend as they will co-host the Music City Invitational with rival Lipscomb. The Bruins will host teams such as Miami (Ohio), Butler, Detroit and ETSU at Rose Park starting Friday.
First pitch of the season is slated for 4:00 p.m. against Butler on Friday.