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SMC Volleyball: Belles finish season

Aaron Sant-Miller | Tuesday, October 30, 2012

For the Belles, an up-and-down season finale weekend started with a tough loss to No. 2 Calvin on Friday, as the team lost 25-10, 25-20, 25-16.

“We dug ourselves into a hole early. It’s very difficult to come out of a hole playing a tough team like Calvin,” Belles coach Toni Kuschel said. “The passing just wasn’t there. We went into the second set fired up and were able to play a lot more competitively against a very talented team.”

Against Calvin (26-2, 15-0 MIAA), sophomore outside hitter Kati Schneider led Saint Mary’s (14-14, 7-9). Schneider finished the match with 12 kills, while hitting at an impressive 42 percent. Defensively, freshman outside hitter Katie Hecklinski led the team with nine digs.

On Saturday the Belles saw more success against No. 4 Hope (27-3, 14-2) but still fell to another MIAA rival. After winning the first set, Saint Mary’s lost three consecutive sets to fall 23-25, 32-30, 25-22, 25-17 to the Flying Dutch.

“It was very exciting. We played great volleyball and our team hit very well against a phenomenal team,” Kuschel said. “We passed extremely well. It was a great match.”

Against Hope, Schneider once again led the Belles. Schneider led all players in the match with 18 kills, while also providing strong defensive help with 14 digs. Sophomore defensive specialist Meredith Mersits led the Belles defense with 15 total digs. Senior setter Danie Brink and sophomore middle hitter Melanie Kuczek performed well also, as Brink provided 39 assists while Kuczek had 15 kills at 44 percent.

Following the match against Hope, Saint Mary’s wrapped up its season with a win against Wheaton (11-22, 2-5 CCIW). In their second match on the day, the Belles swept their out of conference opponent, winning in three sets 25-23, 25-23, 25-21.

“It was an all-around fantastic team performance,” Kuschel said. “It was a great way to end the season. Our goal was to have a 14-plus win season and we did that.”

Against Wheaton, Kuczek again shined, as she led the Belles with 18 kills at 43 percent, bringing her kill total on the day to 33.

“Melanie has been so efficient. She has just taken her game to another level,” Kuschel said. “She is just a special player and we’re so blessed to have her on our team.”

Defensively, Mersits led Saint Mary’s with a match-high 17 digs. Brink chipped in as well, providing a team-high 40 assists in her final game for Saint Mary’s. Brink will leave the Belles sitting at second all-time in program history with 3,170 career assists.

For the Belles, the individual standout performances did not go unnoticed. Brink and Schneider were both named MIAA Specialty Player and Position Player of the Week respectively. On the week, Schneider had 58 kills, 50 digs and six service aces. Brink’s 79 assists on Saturday pushed her weekly total to an impressive 137, or 10.4 per set. This was the first time since 2008 that the Belles swept both awards.

Overall, the Belles finished the season fifth in the MIAA, as the team holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Adrian. As a result, Saint Mary’s will not be continuing on to the MIAA tournament, which only the top four teams in the conference compete in.

“We had a great season overall,” Kuschel said. “We just had one really tough week of volleyball where we did not come up with a win like we would have liked to, which prevented us from making the top four. It’s tough to not make that top four slot.”

Still, things are on the rise for the Belles, Kuschel said. The team will graduate Brink, but bring back all their remaining players. Outside of Brink, every player on Saint Mary’s is either a freshman or a sophomore.

“We are such a young team though and are so excited to have so much potential to build on,” Kuschel said. “We think of the season as a success. We have improved in every area possible.”

Contact Aaron Sant-Miller at asantmil@nd.edu