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SMC Tennis: Belles face Albion in hopes of continuing streak

Jack Hefferon | Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The weather isn’t the only thing heating up in South Bend.

The Belles have won five of their past seven matches, and with MIAA conference play opening against Albion tonight, they hope to keep rolling.

Saint Mary’s (5-4) early success has been a gradual process, and the team has grown both through their matches and through practice. While much of that growth has been from the four starting freshmen, the Belles’ two senior captains also used the early season to hit their stride.

Senior captain Franca Peluso missed three matches and much of the preseason due to injury, but has since battled back and is continuing to improve.

“Franca Peluso, who was our No. 3 singles player last year, is getting stronger every day and is getting stronger in doubles, as well,” Belles coach Dale Campbell said.

Another big contributor was the Belles’ other captain, senior Jillian Hurley. As Saint Mary’s top singles player, Hurley was forced to battle not only great competition, but also a nagging injury early in the year.

“Jillian is getting more match tough, so she is getting better with every match,” Campbell said. “She played a few nationally ranked players in the beginning, which were difficult and she also started off the season with an injury. She is getting stronger and more flexible in how to win matches and I think her experience will help her along the way. She has the skills to beat any player in our conference on any given day.”

After the rocky 1-4 start in singles play, Hurley won four singles matches in a row and is a big part of Saint Mary’s hot streak.

Both Hurley and the Belles will face a stiff challenge from Albion (4-1), though, in their MIAA opener. The Britons are a solid team from top to bottom, but especially outstanding is their star senior Shelley Zamler, whom Hurley will be matched against.

“Their number one player is very tough — an all MIAA first team athlete — but she is beatable,” Campbell said. “Many of their other players are incoming freshmen and other underclassmen, but we always expect a tough challenge from them.”

The key for the Belles in this match and throughout conference play will be the continued improvement of their play and teamwork in doubles matches, Campbell said. The Belles are 14-13 in doubles play in the season, compared to a 34-20 record in singles.

“We always tell our team that they need to be more aggressive in doubles and to get our opponents reacting to us,” Campbell said. “Doubles play happens quickly with an 8-game set, so you have to be ready to play your best from the start. We are stronger in singles, but we’re progressing in doubles.”

Campbell and the Belles hope that their early season performances carry over into the conference, and that a victory over Albion will be the start to a MIAA championship run.

“I think we have been well prepared by playing a few tougher teams such as Case Western and Dickinson,” Campbell said. “We have had enough match experience, but the feel of conference play is a bit different.”

The Belles and the Britons will square off at Eck Tennis Pavilion tonight at 5:30 p.m.