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SMC Volleyball: Saint Mary’s tops Alma in three-set sweep

Aaron Sant-Miller | Thursday, October 25, 2012

While locked in a close race for the fourth and final spot into the MIAA tournament, Saint Mary’s won in a three-set sweep over conference rival Alma. The Belles won three close sets, winning the match 25-21, 25-20, 25-19.

“We had a magnificent game [yesterday]. We just played great volleyball,” Belles coach Toni Kuschel said. “We were so composed and under control. We’ve been very focused on control and consistency this week in practice and that really shined through.”

Offensively, sophomore outside hitter Kati Schneider paced the Belles (13-12, 7-7 MIAA) with had 17 kills. Close behind Schneider was freshman outside hitter Katie Hecklinski, who had 12 kills. Sophomore middle hitter Melanie Kuczek also managed to get into the double digits, as she finished with 11 while hitting at an impressive 55 percent.

“We had some phenomenal performances,” Kuschel said. “Three double-doubles with Kati, Katie and [senior setter] Danie [Brink} is just awesome.”

Brink led all players with 34 assists while also providing 12 digs in a strong defensive effort. Schneider and Hecklinski each had 16 and 24 digs, respectively.

Kuschel said that the Belles’ defense was key to the win. Saint Mary’s had a total of five players get into the double digits for digs, including sophomore defensive specialists Meredith Mersits and Samantha Grady. Mersits had 14 digs, while Grady was second on the team with 19.

“Both of them played great,” Kuschel said. “It was just an all-around fantastic defensive performance for our team.”

Based off of their conference record, Saint Mary’s is now tied for fourth in the MIAA with Alma (14-12, 7-7). Yet, Alma holds the tiebreaker over the Belles, as the Scots have a half-game lead in overall record.

Going forward, the Belles have three matches left in the season, including matches against two MIAA opponents. On Friday, the Belles play MIAA leader Calvin (24-2, 12-0). Then, on Saturday, Saint Mary’s wraps up its season against conference rival Hope (24-3, 12-2) before facing Wheaton (11-20, 2-5 CCIW). Hope currently sits right behind Calvin in the MIAA rankings. Both conference foes are ranked in the top-five nationally – Calvin is No. 2 in the nation while Hope is No. 4.

“We have a tough road ahead of us. We’re very excited to play them,” Kuschel said. “They are two of the best teams in our conference, and we’re excited for the remainder of our season. We just want to finish our season very strong.”

For the Belles, the team’s performance against Alma acts as model for how to play in those critical conference matches, Kuschel said.

“I think we need to play like we did [last night]. We hit extremely well,” Kuschel said. “We came up with big kills when we needed them and we played extremely tough defense.”

Still, Kuschel said that the Belles have plenty of room for improvement heading into their final weekend of the regular season.

“Our blocking does need to come along. We did get a lot of touches tonight, which bodes well for our defense,” Kuschel said. “Still, we will need to come up with some kill-blocks on Friday and Saturday to slow their hitters down.”

The Belles will first look to do just that against Calvin. On Friday, Saint Mary’s travels to Calvin for a 7 p.m. match.

Contact Aaron Sant-Miller at asantmil@nd.edu