Saint Mary’s: Year in Review
Joe Meixell | Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The Belles finished off one of their best years to date with a fifth-place finish in the MIAA championship and hope to continue their success next season.
Coach Ryan Dombkowski will step aside next year and his wife Alicia will take over. Ryan will remain as an assistant coach, while continuing to teach biology at Saint Mary’s.
Alicia brings her own swimming experience to the table as she was a Div. III swimmer at Saint Mary’s where she helped set two Saint Mary’s records in relay events and was also named the squad MVP. Dombkowski will be the squad’s fifth coach to coach the Belles since they joined the MIAA in 1997-1998.
The team was able to set a school record this year with five dual meet wins, boding well for the team’s future.
The Belles, however, do lose some major talent with the graduation of senior sprinter and freestyler, Kelly Tighe, as well as Tracy Kosmala. The rest of the team will be returning to improve upon the fifth-place finish.
The team was close multiple teams to pulling out league victories, but either missed it by a hair, losing by six points to rival Hillsdale College, or were hurt by an early start in the case of its meet against Olivet College, where its record setting 200- medley relay was called back due to an early handoff.
The diving team took major steps this year, in the first year that it has been reintroduced to Saint Mary’s, and were able to win a couple of events, including Leah Bocinsky who won the one-meter dive against Hillsdale College.
With the return of 27 swimmers and divers from the team’s record setting year, including the return of two-time 1650- freestyle champion Melissa Gerbeth, the Belles know that they will have a great chance to beat their record setting year.
Senior Megan Gray capped her record-setting career with a 38th-place finish at the Division III National Championships after leading the Belles to a school-best fourth place finish in the MIAA.
Gray finished first for Saint Mary’s in every race she ran during both her junior and senior seasons. She became the first Belles runner to be named to the all-MIAA first team and the first to qualify for the national meet – and she did both twice.
Gray also set school records in both the 5k and 6k races while capturing three individual meet titles.
“Megan has been a turning point for Saint Mary’s cross country,” Belles coach Jackie Bauters said before the national championship meet. “If you would have asked five years ago if Saint Mary’s would ever make it to the national meet, people would probably laugh. We’re on the map now.”
A pair of freshmen – Sam Wieczorek and Catie Salyer – led a strong supporting cast for the Belles, who finished fourth at both the MIAA Jamboree and MIAA Championship meets. The two conference-wide competitions collectively determine the final conference standings, and Saint Mary’s surpassed its previous school-best finish, fifth place in 2006, to earn fourth in the standings.
Saint Mary’s entered the season hoping to prove it could compete with the best in the country this season, but came up just short in their hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
Its second place finish at the MIAA qualifier for the NCAA Tournament was not enough for Saint Mary’s to earn an at-large bid.
“Our two goals for this season and every season is to win the conference in the fall and make it to the NCAAs in the spring,” Belles coach Mark Hamilton said. “Obviously this year we didn’t reach either of those goals, but I feel we did very well.”
Hamilton said the team came very close to earning an at-large bid but failed in the committee’s eyes.
“I feel like we came up just one stroke short of getting that bid,” Hamilton said. “We played very well during the last few weeks of the season, but it wasn’t enough.”
The most outstanding performance for the team this season in Hamilton’s eyes was its last two rounds in the MIAA qualifier when they upended Div. III powerhouse Olivet.
“We outplayed and beat Olivet on their home course in those last two rounds,” Hamilton said. “If it wasn’t for the first-round hole they put us in we could’ve won.”
Sparking that solid play for the Belles was a very young team this year that featured the second most highly ranked freshman class in Div. III as ranked by Golfstat.com.
“The freshman have been great this year,” Hamilton said. “I expect them to play very well down the road.”
Senior Katie O’Brien wrapped up her career at Saint Mary’s, the leader and most outstanding player of the team for most of her tenure.
“She has been a great leader and player for us, and really our moral compass throughout her four years,” Hamilton said. “We hope her legacy will be with us for many years to come.”
O’Brien had to overcome adversity throughout her career, coming back from knee surgery in her sophomore year and mononucleosis in her junior year.
Filling the void left by O’Brien’s departure will be a tall order for the Belles, but Hamilton believes new leadership will rise up from within the team next year.
“We have a lot of good leaders just waiting on this team,” Hamilton said. “I am confident that one will step up and emerge next year.”
The Belles finished their season with many accomplishments, including a winning record, a trip to the conference tournament and several broken records.
Saint Mary’s ended the year with a 23-8 record, good enough for the No. 2 seed in the MIAA tournament. The Belles lost both of their postseason games, to Tri-State and Hope.
This season marked the third straight time the Belles have qualified for the postseason – all of which have come under coach Erin Sullivan.
The Belles faced a difficult challenge this year in dealing with the passing of assistant coach Don Miller, who died of cancer on April 13. Miller, the players’ academic advisor, had been with the program for eight years.
Saint Mary’s 12 wins in MIAA play are the most since they joined the league in 1998.
Three Belles were named to all-MIAA teams, with senior McKenna Corrigan and sophomore Ashley Peterson earning first-team honors and junior Cathy Kurczak making the second team.
Corrigan, the Belles’ only senior, was a perfect 7-0 with a 3.72 ERA. She was also a contributor at the plate, leading the league with six home runs and 17 RBIs.
Peterson won the MIAA batting title with a league average of .580. She also led the league with 29 hits, tying the MIAA record for hits in a season.
Kurczak was one of 10 players in the MIAA to post a perfect fielding percentage. The second baseman started all 16 games and did not make an error in 59 chances.
Saint Mary’s went into its season with only two returning members, eight freshmen and an interim coach. With a young team and so much potential, the Belles were unsure of where the season would take them.
After going 13-13 (5-3 MIAA) and tying with Calvin for fourth place last season, Saint Mary’s was looking to improve. It started by going 4-3 over spring break, overcoming first match anxieties early in the week and improving as the week progressed.
Following break, Saint Mary’s wasn’t able to keep up its momentum as the Belles lost their next five matches but pulled out a 9-0 win over conference foe Olivet to break the streak. After that match, they won seven of their last nine before heading into the MIAA tournament.
In the first round of the tournament Saint Mary’s took on Kalamazoo, losing 5-1 and placing itself into the consolation tournament. A protest was eventually filed against Kalamazoo, however, and the match was later forfeited to the Belles.
The Belles then easily defeated Tri-State 5-1. In the third round, Saint Mary’s took on Alma for the fifth place match, winning 5-2.
Overall, Saint Mary’s had a very successful season, especially with a young team. At No. 1 doubles sophomore co-captain Camille Gebert and freshman Jillian Hurley went 12-10, 8-3 MIAA. At No. 2, freshman Betsy Reed and sophomore co-captain Lisa Rubino went 9-11, 5-6 MIAA.
In singles, Gebert went 14-8 (8-3 MIAA) at the No. 1 spot. Hurley went 20-2 (11-0 MIAA) at No. 2 and Reed went 13-8 (8-3 MIAA) at No. 3.
Saint Mary’s ended the season ranked fourth in the MIAA, with a record of 12-10, 5-3 MIAA. Both Gebert and Hurley received MIAA honors.
Gebert made the All-MIAA First Team, and Hurley made the All-MIAA Second Team.
Saint Mary’s started the season off strong and ended on a positive note, posting its fourth winning season of the last five years. The Belles went 7-5-5, 3-3-2 MIAA, ending their season fifth in the conference.
Saint Mary’s started the season off with a championship at the Case Western Reserve Tournament Sept. 1-2. The Belles won over the host Spartans and Lawrence University, holding off the Spartans 2-1 and beating the Vikings 3-0.
The Belles continued their success as they won their home opener over Manchester College 3-0. Hope ended the winning streak as it beat Saint Mary’s 3-1, the Belles’ first loss of the year.
Saint Mary’s continued its season with a 0-0 tie with Calvin before heading into North Central College’s Sal Vaccaro Invitational, beating Mount Mercy 3-0 in the first round of the tournament, and winning 5-3 in a shootout victory over North Central to win the tournament on Sept. 16. Senior goalie Amy Mahoney posted her fourth shutout of the season. The game officially ended in a 0-0 tie, with the Belles capturing the ensuing shootout 5-3 after 110 minutes of play.
In its Sept. 22 conference opener, Saint Mary’s defeated Kalamazoo 2-1. Senior Justine Higgins and sophomore Bridget Ronayne were named the MIAA offensive and defensive players of the week, respectively, after their performances in the North Central tournament and against Kalamazoo.
Saint Mary’s continued conference competition with two consecutive ties, going 1-1 against Albion and 0-0 versus Olivet at the end of September, and a 3-1 loss to Hope on Oct. 6. However, the Belles came back with a 4-3 win over Adrian on Oct. 9, but fell 2-0 to Calvin on Oct. 13 before beating Tri-State 8-2 three days later.
Saint Mary’s took on Illinois Wesleyan on Oct. 20 in a non-conference match-up, tying the game at 1-1 before taking on Alma for its last regular season conference game, which the Belles lost 3-2.