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SMC Volleyball: Belles finish best season in years

Samantha Leonard | Thursday, November 9, 2006

Saint Mary’s had one of its best seasons in history.

The Belles finished with a record of 17-10 overall and 9-7 in the MIAA. after their season ended Friday with a 3-0 loss to No. 12 Calvin.

This fall, they came out of the gate quickly, winning nine of their first 10 games and hosting their first postseason game since 1999.

Saint Mary’s won that Oct. 31 game 3-2 against Alma – its first MIAA tournament win since the last time it hosted – but went on to lose to No. 12 Calvin College in the next round.

Belles coach Julie Schroeder-Biek said team chemistry contributed to the squad’s success.

“I don’t believe that I have ever had a team that, from starter to non-starter, supported each other so fully, she said. “They enjoyed each other and it showed on the court, on the bench, on the bus, at team meals, in practices – it was a great dynamic.”

Schroeder-Biek said she was pleased by how the season turned out.

“It was very satisfying to accomplish our goal to host the first round of the MIAA tournament and, for the first time since 1999, advance to the semi-final round.”

Another big reason for the Belles’ success was their captains – seniors outside hitter Kristen Playko, libero Anne Cusack and outside hitter Ann Carpenter.

Schroeder-Biek had nothing but praise for her departing seniors.

“Their talent, effort and leadership have made a huge impact on our volleyball program and really helped to bring our program up to the next level,” she said.

That level meant some awards for these seniors.

Cusack was honored as the MIAA defensive player of the year, while also being named was named to the league’s first team. As the Saint Mary’s libero, Cusack posted 472 total digs – 7.04 per game against league competition – and ranked first in the MIAA.

The senior also ranked 10th in the league in services with 0.42 aces per game. Cusack spent all season among the top-50 in the nation in digs. Playko also finished with honors. She was named to the All-MIAA second team for the second time in her career. She received first team honors in 2003. This season, Playko ranked fourth in the league in kills with 3.85 kills per game and eighth in digs at 4.82 per game.

Carpenter received an all-league honorable mentions for her play this season. She averaged 1.36 kills per game and helped on defense with 0.63 digs per game.

Another award winner was one of Saint Mary’s outstanding freshmen, outside hitter Lorna Slupczynski, who took home the league’s Freshman of the Year honors.

Slupczynski had a strong rookie season, averaging 3.00 kills and 3.72 digs a game in MIAA matches. She posted 10 double-figure kill efforts and 14 double-figure dig efforts in 18 league matches.

Slupczynski also had eight double-doubles during the league season. Slupczynski and Cusack’s honors marked the first time in Saint Mary’s history that a Belle was recognized with an MIAA player of the year award. Setter Amanda David also received an honorable mention from MIAA coaches.

Schroeder-Biek says she is ready for next season and expects great things.

As for next year, the Belles will build on the successes that they experienced this year.

“We have a fantastic group of experienced and talented players returning,” Schroeder-Biek said. “These players will bring with them even higher goals due to the success we experienced this season.”

Sophomore middle blocker Kaela Hellmann, the Belles’ leader in blocks with 0.8 per game, said she will miss this year’s graduating veterans.

“Next year, I’m looking forward [to] improving on the respect we have earned this season [with] our finish in the conference,” she said. “The seniors this year were great leaders and communicators on the team. They have helped me personally grow up throughout my college experience with volleyball and school.”