The nationally-ranked Belmont women’s basketball team will begin the journey toward a third consecutive Ohio Valley Conference Championship on Wednesday, taking on Murray State in the first round as the No. 1 seed.
The team arrives at the tournament with a long list of accomplishments, like going undefeated in conference play for the second consecutive year, winning the OVC regular season and — for the first time ever — being ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. They currently sit at No. 22.
But most recently, head coach Bart Brooks was voted OVC Coach of the Year alongside four players being named to the All-OVC First and Second Teams.
Brooks attributes all of his success to the players and his coaching staff.
“Every individual award is a reflection of our team’s success,” Brooks said. “And I have the best assistant coaches in America. I haven’t done anything by myself, they’ve been with me side by side through this whole process.”
His initial goal as head coach was to win the OVC regular season. Now — OVC regular season trophy in hand — Brooks’ focus is on winning the OVC Championship.
After winning such a high honor as a first-year head coach, it might seem like there’s a lot of pressure on Brooks going into tournament season, but he doesn’t see it that way.
“There is no extra pressure on us. Our pressure is internal, and our expectations for ourselves are a lot higher than anyone’s on the outside,” said Brooks.
Senior Sally McCabe agreed.
“We don’t look behind us, we look forward.”
Coach Brooks wasn’t the only one to be honored by the OVC. Four members of the team also received recognition.
McCabe, along with senior Kylee Smith and junior Darby Maggard, made the All-OVC First Team. Junior Jenny Roy was also voted to the All-OVC Second Team.
For McCabe, this is her third time being elected to the team.
“It’s a huge honor, and it just shows that the coaches respect the game that we play,” said McCabe.
With just a handful of games left in her college basketball career, she just wants to cherish every last moment.
“Everything means a little bit more now,” she said. “I’ve been soaking in everything I can and cherishing every moment with my favorite teammates.”
Smith knows it’s a great honor to be part of the All-OVC First Team for the third time as well, but she’s stayed humble in spite of the recognition. She credits the whole team for its success with becoming the first nationally-ranked Belmont team.
“I don’t expect anything less because I see my team go to work every single day. The work we put in is unlike any other team,” said Smith.
Smith has embraced her role as a senior and leader, working to guide the team’s five freshmen as a way to give back to the program.
“Seniors in the past have always molded me, and I’d like to give back in that sense,” said Smith.
Maggard appreciates this attitude, and says the seniors have done a great job stepping into their roles as leaders this season.
“They are the reason why we are where we are. They come in every single day and bring the right attitude and the right energy and are ready to lead,” said Maggard.
The team looks to extend its undefeated conference record going into the tournament, having the second longest conference win streak behind University of Connecticut.
The Bruins will play their first game against Murray State at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. It will be aired on ESPN3.
This article written by Steven Boero.