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SMC Athletics: Year in Review

Sam Davis | Friday, May 19, 2006

Basketball

Saint Mary’s proved it could play with the best in the MIAA.

A year after compiling an 11-15 record, including a 6-10 conference mark, the Belles earned their first winning conference record (9-7) and captured the No. 4 seed in the league tournament.

But the off-season for Saint Mary’s has been rocky as the athletic department did not renew the contract of first-year coach Steve Bender after he won MIAA coach of the year honors.

After the decision, Saint Mary’s officials declined to comment on the specifics of the matter, saying they could not discuss personnel issues. A replacement has not yet been named.

The Belles began the season with a 68-51 loss to Hanover but responded with a 65-61 win over Franklin.

Four consecutive losses followed – including one to conference foe Hope – but Saint Mary’s righted its ship with consecutive wins over MIAA opponents Adrian and Alma to improve to 2-1 in the conference.

The Belles went 1-2 in the non-conference Clark College tournament during winter break and returned to league action in January with a 51-45 win over Tri-State.

After losses to Olivet and Calvin, Saint Mary’s took league contests over Kalamazoo and Albion to improve to 5-3 in the MIAA.

The Belles then lost their second matchup with Adrian but won three in a row against Alma, Tri-State and Olivet to move to 8-4 in the conference. Saint Mary’s lost to Calvin and then beat Kalamazoo in its third-to-last regular season game to reach nine league wins for the first time in history.

But the Belles’ run ended there, as Saint Mary’s lost its final two regular season games – against Albion and Hope – and fell 49-46 to Alma in the first round of the MIAA tournament.

Cross Country

Junior Sara Otto and senior Becky Feauto led the Belles to their best-ever finish at the 2005 MIAA championship meet, as Saint Mary’s finished fifth in the six-kilometer race hosted by Kalamazoo College in Three Rivers, Mich.

Saint Mary’s previous best finish in the conference championship was sixth. This year, the Belles’ team score of 163 beat Olivet (170), Alma (183), Adrian (227) and Tri-State (257).

The meet capped a season in which Feauto and Otto finished first and second on the squad almost every week and led the team to several strong finishes.

Saint Mary’s finished the 2005 season in style with several runners capturing personal bests in the Division III Great Lake Regionals at Voice of America Park.

Feauto achieved her personal goal of 24:00 for six kilometers on the dot at the regional race. The time bested her personal record by 17 seconds.

“It was great for her,” first-year coach Jackie Bauters said after the meet. “That was her goal time, and she achieved it. She ran really well.”

Otto did not compete in the event, but five of Saint Mary’s seven runners in the meet improved their 6K times from the MIAA championship meet two weeks ago while three set personal records.

Soccer

Saint Mary’s had another strong season in soccer, going 11-7-1 overall with a 10-5-1 record in the MIAA.

The Belles opened the season with a dramatic two-overtime 4-3 victory over SUNY-Brockport and finished with a 2-0 road victory over conference foe Kalamazoo. In between, the team captured 5-0 wins over Adrian and Alma and a 9-1 victory over Tri-State.

Saint Mary’s shut out six opponents this year, and its worst loss – 4-0 to Illinois Wesleyan on Sept. 7 – came before the team went on a streak that included five wins in six games.

The Belles lost their conference opener to Hope 2-0 but rebounded to take down Albion by the same score in the second MIAA match of the season. The pattern was repeated in early October, as Saint Mary’s began its second go-around in the league with a 2-0 loss to Hope but responded with a 2-1 victory over Albion.

Swimming

Saint Mary’s athletic director Lynn Kachmarik served as interim head coach for the Belles in the 2005-06 season before the team introduced Ryan Dombkowski as head coach Feb. 24.

The Belles’ regular season came to an end Jan. 28, when they dropped two home meets to Albion and Calvin by scores of 119-60 and 143-59, respectively.

The team was guided by its senior captains Katie Dingeman and Kelly Nelis. Throughout the campaign, Kachmarik said Dingeman and Nelis were strong examples for the underclassmen. Dingeman recorded a time of 1:08.13 in the 100-meter butterfly at the MIAA Championship meet.

In the Belles’ final regular season meet, Nelis recorded the team’s best time in the 500 freestyle, coming away with a 5:34.74 and earning second place overall.

Against Kalamazoo earlier in the season, Nelis won the 200-meter and 500-meter freestyle events.

The Belles look forward to next year and hope that juniors Karla McGough, Sarah Budd and Mary Stancukas, all of whom specialize in the freestyle, will be able to step up to the plate and assume the leadership role for the Belles just as effectively as captains Dingeman and Nelis did this year.

Tennis

Saint Mary’s went 10-10 overall but finished 5-3 in the MIAA en route to a fifth place finish in the league.

After losing 8-1 to both Calvin and Indiana Wesleyan in the team’s final two regular season matches, Saint Mary’s knew it had to turn its ship around quickly for the MIAA championship meet.

“We’ve learned a lot from the matches we’ve lost,” Belles junior Kelly McDavitt said after the losses. “We’re going to try to go in with an open mind, stay positive and try to get a big win to make up for the losses we’ve had over the season.”

The Belles managed to finish fifth in the tournament – the same place as their regular season record.

Senior Kristen Palombo earned second-team All-MIAA honors, the fourth time she earned an all-conference distinction in her career.

McDavitt and Calie Mulcahy combined for a second-place finish at the MIAA meet in the No. 1 doubles competition.

Saint Mary’s last team win came April 12 against Kalamazoo, a thrilling 5-4 victory in which the Belles captured the final four singles matches off the court to top the conference foe.

McDavitt sparked the rally with her 6-4, 6-0 victory over Kalamazoo’s Laura Spencer for Saint Mary’s first singles win of the match.

Volleyball

Three Belles earned All-MIAA honors after a tough season for Saint Mary’s.

Junior Anne Cusack earned second-team All-MIAA honors, while junior Kristen Playko and senior Shelly Bender earned honorable mentions.

The Belles finished 11-18 (5-12 MIAA) after losing six of seven matches to begin the season.

At the Elmhurst College Invitational, Saint Mary’s dropped its first nine sets against Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Elmhurst and St. Scholastica before rebounding with a straight-set victory over Blackburn.

The Belles then began their MIAA schedule with a 3-1 loss to Hope before taking three of five matches at the non-conference Wooster College Invitational.

The high point of the season came when Saint Mary’s earned three straight wins in the middle of September against Concordia, Kalamazoo and Manchester. All three matches went to five sets.

But the Belles dropped both of their games at the SMC Triangular Sept. 24 and won just four more times in their final 13 contests.

Saint Mary’s final win came Oct. 25 against Kalamazoo, a 3-2 road victory. The team then lost the regular season finale against Albion and dropped its first-round match against Alma in straight sets.