Missouri Valley Conference

Something’s A-Bruin in the Valley: A Breakdown of Loyola’s Future Matchups with Belmont

Henry Redman | The PhoenixThe Belmont Bruins will be the newest addition to the Missouri Valley when they officially join the conference in 2022.

The newest addition to the MVC since Valparaiso University joined the conference in 2017, Belmont University Athletics announced that it will be moving to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) in 2022 during a press conference Sept. 28.

The Ramblers will have a new conference opponent in men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, golf and track and field, as well as women’s softball and volleyball.

So what does that mean for Loyola’s teams?

Men’s Basketball

Coming off a four-year hot streak, the Loyola men’s basketball team may find another NCAA bid-worthy opponent in rising mid-major Belmont.

One of the most interesting matchups from the new conference team will come when Loyola is keeping Belmont away from the basket. The Ramblers defense, which managed to hold its opponents to an average 56.1 points per game in the 2020-2021 season, will have to hold off Belmont’s offense that averaged 81 points per game last season.

However, the Ramblers have done this before. With the number one scoring defense in the NCAA last season — which held the Fighting Illini to 58 points when the team had been averaging 81 — this edge could lead them to victory against their new conference opponents.

The Ramblers’ three-point shots do give them an advantage, though. Last year, Loyola landed 36.47% of its three-pointers — a higher percentage of its shots from beyond the arc than Belmont by just over two percent. 

With current redshirt junior guard Braden Norris spending more time on the court than any of his teammates — playing 100 more minutes than graduate guard Williamson — it’s likely his 41% three-point completion from the 2020-2021 season will increase by the time the Bruins are visiting Gentile Arena. 

Zack Miller | The Phoenix Redshirt senior guard Keith Clemons passes up the entire Bradley defense while driving to the basket last season.

Women’s Basketball

After making its first postseason appearance in program history, the Loyola women’s basketball team has a tough competitor in Belmont.

The Ramblers have a solid foundation for taking on Belmont in junior guard Sam Galanopoulos, who led the team with 69 assists in the 2020-21 season. Loyola also had a positive record while away, going 6-5 on opponents’ courts, so they may be able to continue the streak in Nashville. 

While Loyola struggled offensively overall last year, that being its downfall in last year’s postseason, its three-point defense is strong. Last season, the Ramblers held opponents under 29% completion from beyond the arc, leading the MVC and performing something Indiana University also managed to pull off in its 70-48  defeat of Belmont in the NCAA Tournament.

Loyola’s strong defense is also part of what helped it stay afloat offensively, boasting the second-best defense in the conference and only allowing 59 points per game on average. The team was only bested by Missouri State University, who made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament last year and allowed two less points per game. 

Men’s Soccer

The Belmont men’s soccer team will be leaving the Southern Conference for the MVC, a contrast from the rest of the school’s teams which will be leaving the Ohio Valley Conference.

Loyola and Belmont have had similar starts to their fall 2021 seasons. Belmont currently holds a 6-3-1 record, pulling two wins and a loss from conference play, whereas Loyola has gone 6-2-1 with three wins and a tie coming from conference play.

Junior midfielder Oscar Dueso and first-year forward John Gates are helping to lead the Ramblers alongside breakout senior midfielder Billy Hency. Dueso has managed to score three goals with as many assists while Gates has put the ball in the net twice with two assists.

The Bruins could also stand to benefit — or lose out — depending on where they play. The team remains undefeated at home so far this season, with five of their six wins occurring on their own turf. The trip to Loyola Soccer Park might be enough to throw the team out of its rhythm.

Women’s Soccer

The women’s team, like the rest of Belmont’s athletics, will be moving to the MVC from the OVC.

Loyola has been more successful than the Bruins on the field this season, with an overall record of 8-2-1 and an undefeated record of 4-0 in MVC play. Meanwhile, Belmont holds a season record of 5-4-1 but also remains undefeated in conference play with two wins in the OVC. 

Ultimately, the Bruins’ undefeated OVC record hasn’t had much of an influence on the team’s national rankings. Belmont currently sits No. 189 on the NCAA DI women’s soccer rating percentage index (RPI), while Loyola is ranked No. 52. 

While Loyola has been the more successful team so far this season, its roster currently includes five seniors and four graduate players who will depart from the team before Belmont joins the MVC in 2022. 

However, junior midfielder Megan Nemec should be sticking around for her season and will likely be facing off against Belmont next year. Nemec currently leads the Ramblers with 6 goals and 4 assists this season.

Steve Woltmann | Loyola Athletics The Loyola women’s soccer team poses for a photo after winning the its third consecutive MVC Championship April 2021.

Men’s Golf

The Loyola men’s golf team will be left with just three of its current members by the time Belmont joins the MVC, though it seems the team is in good hands. After a rocky start to the season, juniors Timmy Crawford and Dylan Ellis were instrumental in securing the team’s first top-five finish at the Zach Johnson Invitational Sept. 27.

Crawford managed to pull together four birdies, landing two rounds in a row in the 60s. Ellis also placed in the top 20, teeing up a sub-80 score at the end of the second day. This is likely due to the extra practice the team has been putting in, which is likely to continue to pay off as the fall season finishes up.

After the team’s first-ever MVC title in the spring 2021 season, it will need to continue to pick up its momentum if the group hopes to challenge its newest competitor in 2022.

Women’s Golf

The Loyola women’s golf team also had a rocky start to the season, currently placing ninth out of ten teams in the conference, but seems to have managed to break its curse at Indiana University’s Courtney Cole Invitational, placing 3rd in the five-team tournament. 

The team is relatively young with several promising players, such as sophomore Abby Thielbar. Her 76.2 average is the best on the team — down from her 78.8 in her debut season — followed by first-year Grace Suter’s 77 average. 

However, Belmont also has some young talent. The team is led by first-year Kendall Maynard and sophomore Delia Gibbs, whose current averages sit at 73 and 74.7 respectively.

The two teams seem fairly evenly matched, though that could mean that MVC play will prove to be as difficult for Belmont as it is for the Ramblers. 

Women’s Volleyball

The Loyola women’s volleyball team is nearing one of its best starts in recent history aided by distinguished upperclassmen and “secret weapon” first-years, meaning the Ramblers will have a solid foundation by the time Belmont joins in 2022. 

Even returning underclassmen — such as sophomore outside hitter Emily Banitt and sophomore libero Grace Hinchman — brought back All-MVC honors during their debut year, pointing at continued success for the team as it’s handed off.

All of this follows its first  MVC Championship appearance in program history. Junior outside hitter Taylor Venuto set her career single-game block record during the quarterfinal matchup, only to topple it again this season with 12 blocks against University of Illinois Chicago Sept. 18.

Belmont, on the other hand, is off to a rocky start. With more than half the team consisting of upperclassmen, its 4-11 record for this season may not be entirely indicative of what’s to come, but it may be a sign of more conference wins for Loyola next year.

Steve Woltmann | Loyola Athletics Taylor Venuto has proven herself as she’s come back from last season’s injury, beating her single-game block record within one month of the fall 2021 regular season.

Cross Country and Track and Field 

Both Loyola and Belmont are in the thick of cross country season, with the Bruins seeing more success in their region than Loyola.

While Belmont’s men’s roster is currently ranked eighth out of fifteen teams in the South Region according to the US Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) most recent weekly rankings, Loyola sits at No. 14 in the Midwest Region. 

However, the Loyola women’s cross country team has seen more success, ranking No. 9 in the Midwest Region while Belmont landed at No. 12 in this week’s USTFCCCA rankings

While neither the Loyola men’s or women’s track teams placed in the top five of the indoor or outdoor MVC Championships, sophomore Melissa Parrella made the fourth best women’s long jump and junior long jumper Kevin Szczepaniec made the eighth best men’s long jump in Loyola history during the 2021 season.

Women’s Softball

Women’s softball is among the few sports in which the Ramblers and Bruins have already met, with Belmont holding a 3-0 record over Loyola. 

The Ramblers most recently faced off against the Bruins during the 2021 spring season, when they travelled to Nashville for a double-header Feb. 25. Loyola lost the first game 1-2 and the second 6-7 in extra innings. 

Based on its record, it might seem as though Belmont has the upper-hand over Loyola. However, both teams will be losing five seniors by the time the teams meet in Valley play.

Loyola will hold onto junior utility player Amelia Thomas, who was ranked third behind two current seniors in batting average, hitting .274 during the 2021 season.

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