NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Routine has returned for the Belmont women's soccer team this week now that the Bruins have emerged on the other side of their most trying stretch of the schedule.
The week's slate features two games: at home against UT Martin on Friday at 4 p.m. and on the road at Murray State on Sunday at 1 p.m. It's a welcome sight for the battle-tested Bruins, who are coming off the toughest portion in their season of five games in 10 days.
"This week we've had a chance to recover our minds and bodies and find a normal rhythm to refocus more on the smaller details of our game," said Belmont Head Coach Heather Henson. "When you're tired and you're worn out, it's tougher to focus on the details."
The Bruins fought admirably through their recent gauntlet, posting a 2-3 record to move to 5-6-2 overall (3-3-1 in OVC games). Perhaps unexpectedly, the two wins both came away from home during some of the team's longest road trips of the year at Eastern Illinois and at Jacksonville State.
That's a further example of the unpredictability and parity of the OVC, Henson said.
"You can look across the board at the standings and how teams are playing and how everyone is fighting for those three or one points, because those are going to matter," she said, referencing the head-to-head tiebreakers that will factor into the end-of-the-year standings and conference tournament seeding.
"They have every year. That's how exciting our conference is. Everyone's such a strong competitor and the level of play is so close."
Up next is a pair of the early leaders in the OVC this season in UT Martin (10-2-1, 5-0-1 OVC) and Murray State (8-3-1, 4-2 OVC). Friday's contest with the Skyhawks is Belmont's annual "Think Pink" breast cancer awareness game that will feature fundraising and giveaways.
It's also an important chance for the Bruins to pick up some points in the standings – three for a win or one for a tie – as the hunt for an OVC Tournament spot continues to heat up. The Bruins are ready though, feeling as sharp as they have since their six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) in September thanks to the rest.
"As soon as you felt like you were recovering, we had another game," junior midfielder Niki Clements (Perkasie, Pa.) said of the recent schedule. "We definitely weren't used to having five games in 10 days and I think it took a toll on our minds and bodies, but I was proud of how we battled through."
LAST TIME OUT
Belmont finished off a stretch of five games in 10 days this past weekend in which the Bruins posted a 2-3 record. Freshman defender Rachel Vernon had the lone goal of a 3-1 loss against EKU on Sunday and is now the fifth Bruin to score her first career goal this season. On the opposite end of things, sophomore Julie Garst netted her fifth goal of the season in a 1-0 win at Jacksonville State to tie a career high. Belmont also dropped a 2-0 game at Tennessee Tech last week, a makeup game after the initally scheduled contest was rained out.
Belmont holds the slight edge in the all-time series with UT Martin with a 9-8 record and wins in each of the past two meetings That includes a 1-0 victory the last time the Skyhawks played in Nashville in 2016. The Bruins are 5-4 all-time against Murray State, but the Racers have taken each of the past three meetings by identical 1-0 scores.
SCOUTING THE SKYHAWKS
UT Martin is the last remaining unbeaten team in the OVC, sporting a 5-0-1 record in conference play. The Skyhawks are 10-2-1 overall and 7-0-1 in their past eight games. Martin's explosive offense leads the OVC in both shots (19.7) and goals (2.54) per game, but the Skyhawks have also allowed the fewest goals in the league (0.83 per game). Six players have scored at least three goals, led by the six of senior midfielder Amy McGivern. Sophomore Erica Myers is the team's primary goal keeper, who's posted a 0.73 GAA and .781 save percentage.
SCOUTING THE RACERS
Murray State started the week with an impressive 8-3-1 overall record but a 4-2 mark in OVC games. Those league losses came against fellow front-runners UT Martin and SIUE. The Racers rank right behind UT Martin in shots (18.83) and goals (2.08) per game largely due to the conference-leading offensive output of forward Miyah Watford. The junior leads the OVC in shots (59), points (21) and goals (8) and ranks second in assists (5). Freshman teammate Abby Jones is the league leader in assists (7) and has also scored five times.
Julie Garst's goal against Jacksonville State was her third game-winning goal of the season, tied for the most in the OVC. Garst is now tied with six others for third most game winners in a single season in program history.
SPREAD THE WEALTH
Eleven Bruins have combined to score Belmont's 15 goals this season -- Julie Garst is the lone player to score more than one goal (5) -- and the Bruins have had 15 players in all record at least one point. The team's 10 assists are spread over nine players with Jessi Boozer the only Bruin with multiple assists (2).
SHOOTING UP THE RANKINGS
Sophomore forward Julie Garst ranks 36th in the NCAA with 4.00 shots per game. She is second in the OVC in both shots per game as well as total shots (52) and her five goals are also tied for seventh.
READY, SET, GO!
Belmont's offense has relied heavily on set pieces since the start of OVC play. Of the Bruins' seven goals in OVC games, four have come from either corners or free kicks. The Bruins have six goals on set pieces overall this year.
HERMAN KEEPS CLIMBING
Junior goalkeeper Lily Herman made six saves to preserve a 1-0 win over Jacksonville State for her third shutout of the season and eighth of her Belmont career. With her next clean sheet, she'll move into a tie for fifth in program history with nine.