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SMC Volleyball: Belles open two-match weekend at home

Samantha Zuba | Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Belles will play in their first home match of the fall Friday against conference rival Albion as part of a two-match weekend that will also take them to Alma, Mich., to face Alma on Saturday. 

Saint Mary’s (1-4, 0-1 MIAA) fell 3-2 to Kalamazoo on Tuesday in its conference opener, but this weekend’s matches offer the Belles two opportunities to earn their first conference win of the season.

Freshman setter Clare McMillan spurred Saint Mary’s offense with 53 set assists in the match versus the Hornets (5-0, 1-0 MIAA). Belles coach Toni Elyea praised McMillan’s rapid development and her ability to collaborate with hitters, especially junior middle hitter Melanie Kuczek. Kuczek recorded a .414 attacking percentage Tuesday against Kalamazoo.

“Being a first year setter, Clare [McMillan] has already shown consistency running our offense,” Elyea said. “She has been able to produce great numbers, especially with Melanie [Kuczek] in the middle and both of our outsides.”

The Belles have an attack percentage of .118 on the season and posted .178 against Kalamazoo, their highest single-match percentage to date. Elyea said Saint Mary’s will continue to develop as an offensive unit in its matches this weekend.

“We will be looking to make some offensive improvements moving into our weekend matches, as well as continue to play at a very high level,” Elyea said.

Last year, Albion (1-4, 0-1 MIAA) posted a 2-24 record under first-year coach Kristen Slamer-de St. Aubin. Sophomore outside hitter Halle Thom and senior middle hitter Jalyn Ingalls anchor the Britons as offensive threats, Elyea said.

“Kristen [Slamer-de St. Aubin] is a good coach that knows the game well,” Elyea said. “They have some tall, physical kids that have a lot of experience playing together. Halle and Jalyn are good players that they will be relying on.”

Thom leads Albion with 2.28 kills per set and 41 total kills so far this year, and Ingalls has pounded 1.89 kills per set for a total of 34 kills. As a team, Albion has achieved a .139 attacking percentage.

Most recently, Albion lost 3-0 to No. 2 Calvin. Ingalls and freshman outside hitter Lauren Outwater sparked the Britons with three kills each against the nationally-ranked Knights (5-0, 1-0 MIAA).

After squaring off against Albion, the Belles travel to Alma (3-2, 0-1 MIAA) for a second conference challenge.

Scots coach Sarah Dehring has guided Alma to a 35-22 record since taking over as head coach in 2011. Dehring propelled the Scots to a 20-12 record in the MIAA during that time.

Senior middle hitter Lea Klooster provides a significant portion of the Scots’ offense. Klooster has 53 kills through five matches and an average of 2.65 kills per set.

Elyea said Dehring’s coaching and Klooster’s hitting drive Alma’s success.

“Alma is coached very well,” Elyea said. “We expect them to be aggressive and strong at the net. Lea has really come out strong for the Scots, so we know they will be relying on her for a lot of their offense.”

Alma last played against No. 5 Hope and lost 3-0. But the Scots narrowly lost the second game of the match 25-23. Klooster smashed eight kills and snagged nine digs as Alma closely contended against the ranked Flying Dutch (5-0, 1-0 MIAA).

Elyea said she expects Alma to maintain its competitive reputation.

“It has always been a battle with Alma during my time here at Saint Mary’s,” Elyea said. “We expect more of the same.”

Saint Mary’s plays its home opener Friday versus Albion at 7 p.m., then embarks for Alma, Mich., to take on Alma on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu