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SMC Volleyball: Belles enter conference matchup riding streak

Conor Kelly | Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Buoyed by their back-to-back wins, the Belles will take on Albion at home Wednesday in an MIAA conference matchup.

Saint Mary’s (5-7, 3-4 MIAA) will need to rely heavily on its offensive strategy to bring its win streak to three games, Belles coach Toni Kuschel said.

“Our middle hitters have blocked and hit very well over the last few weeks,” Kuschel said. “And that’s a direct result of our passing and defense. We have to defend and pass well in order to run our offense.”

Belles junior setter Danie Brink leads the team in defending and passing with 344 assists this season and an average of 8.19 assists per set. Brink earned the MIAA Specialty Player of the Week award after reaching her 2,000th career assist against Manchester on Saturday.

The Belles will depend on Brink to set the offense for the teams’ hitters like junior Stephanie Bodien and freshman Kati Schneider.

“Our hitters are going to have to step up and hit around their blocks,” Kuschel said. “Albion is a very good defensive team.”

The Britons (3-7, 0-5 MIAA) turned in a number of gritty performances against tough MIAA opponents in recent weeks, and the Belles will have to turn in a strong performance of their own to take this match as they cling to the fourth spot in the conference.

Only the top four advance to the conference tournament, with a first-round matchup against defending national champion Calvin likely awaiting the fourth seed.

“We have to continue to get better, and that starts with Albion, and it starts in practice,”

Kuschel said. “Albion is a very tough team. They have a couple impact freshmen up front, and they play a very sound defensive style of volleyball.”

Increasingly, Kuschel has relied on the leadership of Bodien to direct the Belles, a commodity that she has increased exponentially through the beginning of the season.

“Bodien’s vocal leadership has really emerged over the last few weeks,” Kuschel said. “People are buying into what we want to do here. We’re motivated to play at a high level of volleyball. We’re getting contributions through our whole lineup, through all classes. We didn’t necessarily have that last year.”

Saint Mary’s will host Albion at 7 p.m. tonight.

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu