Updated: Oct 3, 2022
With conference play quickly approaching, Coach Bart Brooks and the women’s basketball team have both victories and losses to study moving forward.
The Bruins are welcoming 2020 with a 5-6 record — one that this women’s team isn’t used to.
They haven’t started conference play with a losing record since the 2015-2016 season, the last season prior to hiring Brooks.
But the Bruins have faced possibly their toughest schedule yet in preparation for conference play. Brooks scheduled several Power-5 opponents in a row, first with a visit to Fayetteville, Arkansas to play the then No. 20 Arkansas Razorbacks, and then a post-Thanksgiving trip to the Daytona Beach Invitational tournament where the Bruins suffered losses to Virginia Tech and at the time No. 9 Maryland.
“I’m confident in our team because they have been in some difficult and challenging situations already during our non-conference season,” said Brooks. “Our players have faced the adversity of playing seven of our 11 games on the road, and competed against some of the best teams in the country.”
These early losses, followed by a loss at Toledo, sent the team’s record to 3-5 before the Bruins rattled off a couple of wins against rival Lipscomb and Middle Tennessee.
The Bruin’s trip to Allen Arena at Lipscomb was complete with late-game drama that resulted in a much-needed win for the team. Senior Maura Muensterman was the hero in the final moments as she knocked down a 3-pointer with less than a second remaining to give the Bruins a 1-point lead that the Bisons were unable to overcome on their final possession.
The women’s team was also close to knocking off Big East Conference opponent Marquette, coming within two points of the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee. The Bruins have been on break since then, and will resume their season with a matchup against conference opponent Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Thursday.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the season for the Bruins has been the shared responsibility by multiple players in securing five wins, with each player pulling her weight on a regular basis.
Senior Ellie Harmeyer has been consistently posting double-doubles – six so far – and is averaging one as well, with 16.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
Fellow senior Maddie Wright has been holding down her position in the lane, recording 7.7 rebounds per game and registering a team-high eight blocks so far on the season.
“Our seniors are the leaders of this team,” said Brooks. “Their leadership and production on the court will continue to be one of the biggest factors for our team having success as we enter conference play.”
Sophomore Jamilyn Kinney’s return from a brief absence for injury has been important for the Bruins as well. Her 29.8 minutes per game give the Bruins a consistent source of ball-handling and leadership, as well as 5.5 points per game with a team-high 40 percent 3-point shooting average.
Senior Maura Muensterman’s shooting has been paramount for the team as well, as she boasts 33.8 percent from behind the arc with a sample size of a team-high 74 attempts on the season.
As a whole, the team leads their opponents on average in several statistical categories: overall shooting, free-throw percentage, rebounds per game and total assists. However, the Bruins trail their opponents on average in some of the statistics that are most indicative of winning, such as 3-point percentage, turnover margin, fourth-quarter scoring and points per game.
As the Bruins look to improve their performance in some of these key statistical categories, they will have the chance to do so against important competition in the Ohio Valley Conference.
The opening game of 2020, a matchup with SIU-Edwardsville, will be a prime opportunity to come out of the break swinging, as the Cougars are only 2-9 on the season and lost their last four games to close out December.
One week after that, the Bruins will head out of state to take on Southeast Missouri State in a game with implications at the top of the conference standings. The Redhawks currently sit at second in the OVC with an 8-3 record, and will be coming off of games with fellow conference frontrunners Austin Peay and Murray State before taking on the Bruins.
Belmont will have a chance to get statement wins against some of the best competition the conference has to offer, including Austin Peay, Murray State, Tennessee Tech and Tennessee-Martin. The Bruins split their matchups with Tennessee Tech last season, losing in the regular season but winning in the conference semifinals. The conference tournament also saw the Bruins face off against Tennessee-Martin in the championship, so when the two teams meet again on Jan. 11, it will be a rematch of last year’s title game.
The Bruins have dominated the OVC for the past four years, and although their start has been rocky, Coach Brooks is nothing but confident about his team’s ability to succeed.
“I like how we have progressed during the first two months of the season, and we have been prepared for everything we will face in the OVC,” said Brooks. “I’m excited for the potential that our team has to continue improving and working to be our best every day.”
Article written by Evan Dorian and Julieann Challacombe. Photo by Bronte Lebo.