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SMC Basketball: Belles prepare to face Calvin in tournament

Peter Steiner | Wednesday, February 22, 2012

After losing to No. 5 Calvin twice in the regular season, the Belles hope the third time will be the charm when they square off against the Knights tonight in the first round of the MIAA conference tournament.

Despite two double-digit losses at the hands of the Knights (15-1, 23-1 MIAA) earlier this year, Belles’ coach Jenn Henley has faith in her team’s ability to get the victory this time around.

“I believe in our team very much,” Henley said. “I think it’s hard to play anybody in this league three times. We are going to be very familiar with Calvin. They do have home court advantage, but at the end of the day it’s tournament time, so anything can happen.”

To defeat the Knights, the Belles (9-7, 13-12) will rely upon the play of seniors Kelley Murphy, Patsy Mahoney, Jessica Centa and Maggie Ronan. Murphy and Mahoney both average about 14 points per game, placing them in the top five in scoring in the MIAA. According to Henley, the seniors’ experience of playing in the MIAA conference tournament three times before will be an advantage.

“It helps a lot [to have seniors with experience in the postseason],” Henley said. “They’ve been there before. They know what to expect and they’ll lead us through this.”

With only one loss on the season, Calvin enters the game as a formidable opponent. In addition to finishing this year’s regular season at the top of the MIAA, the Knights also took home the MIAA tournament crown last season.

Much of Calvin’s strength comes from junior forward Carissa Verkaik, who leads the MIAA in both scoring and blocked shots. Controlling the impact Verkaik has on the game will be a deciding factor in the Belles’ success tonight, Henley said.

“We have got to find a way to shut down Verkaik,” Henley said. “She is the heart of their team. She averages almost 20 points and 10 boards a game and can block anything. We’ve got to find ways to limit her touches offensively, and we’ve got to find ways to score while she’s not in the paint.”

Just this year, the MIAA switched to a new conference tournament format in which only the top four teams make the postseason instead of the top eight. While it was more difficult to make the cut, the Belles are now only one game away from the championship game.

“This is what we’ve worked for all season long ⎯ to get into the tournament and get a chance to compete this week,” Henley said. “We have done that, so we are ready. We had a good game on Saturday and now we are just focused on Thursday night.”

The Belles will tip off on the road against the Knights tonight at 7:30 p.m.


Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner@nd.edu