The Belmont women’s soccer team got perhaps the unluckiest draw of all in the NCAA tournament as the Bruins travel to North Carolina to face the No. 1 overall seed UNC Tar Heels.
“You know, 64 teams make it, and that’s an honor in itself,” Belmont coach Heather Henson told the Post. “We’re one of those 64 and we’re staying focused on that. Playing against North Carolina, they have 21 national championships and coach [Anson] Dorrance is a legend. He built the foundation of women’s soccer.
“He was the first women’s National Team coach, and I had the opportunity as a player to play against them, so there’s a great respect. But we’re going into the game to compete. We’re not going in to be afraid of playing them.”
While the records may show drastically different paths to the big dance, Belmont is no stranger to overcoming adversity this season. The Bruins (8-8-5) had to climb the ladder in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament as the No. 6 seed, winning three straight one-goal games over Austin Peay, UT Martin and Murray State just to reach the title game.
“The one and two seeds have the double bye and it sets them up so they have an off weekend,” Henson said. “When we found out we were the No. 6 seed and playing Friday/Sunday and Friday/Sunday, the ladies reaction was that’s our normal rhythm. They saw it as a positive. But you have to win four straight games to advance to the championship. So, staying in our rhythm was the most important piece to that puzzle.”
In the championship match, Belmont knocked off SIU Edwardsville in penalty kicks to claim the conference crown, becoming the lowest seed in OVC history to ever win the tournament and advance to the NCAA tournament for just the second time in school history.
“Through our conference season starting off 0-3 and finding our way in the months of October and November only losing one game going into the tournament, we just felt comfortable with who we were and what we could do,” Henson said. “But there was a confidence in we knew who we were, we knew our game plan and we were confident in what we could do.”
Now that the dust has settled on the crazy gauntlet that was the OVC tournament, Henson has the Bruins focused on their biggest challenge to date. The parallels to the classic David versus Goliath battle are not lost on Henson. In fact, she embraces it because as is evidenced in scripture, a little faith goes a long way.
“It is a David and Goliath, as you would say,” Henson stated. “But I think God has imprinted and written the story for us this year of overcoming so many adversities from injuries to weather delays to broken down buses. He has just continued to write this amazing story.
“Getting on the plane and getting to write this next chapter in this story, we’re immersing ourselves into it and we’re going to compete. The ladies have done a fabulous job of embracing this moment.”
This story previously ran in our sister publication, the Nashville Post.