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SMC Volleyball: Belles victimized by late Kalamazoo rally

Samantha Zuba | Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Belles won their first two games but dropped three straight to lose the match 3-2 against their first conference opponent, Kalamazoo, on Tuesday night in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Despite outhitting the Hornets (5-0, 1-0 MIAA), Saint Mary’s (1-4, 0-1 MIAA) could not close enough games to win the match.

The Belles, however, started off successfully. After snagging an early 5-1 lead, they won the first game 26-24.

The Belles led 20-18 late in the game before Kalamazoo strung together six straight unanswered points on the strength of four kills. A kill by Hornets junior middle hitter Kelsey Hill made the score 24-18 in favor of Kalamazoo.

Facing match point, Saint Mary’s rallied. An attack error by Hill ended Kalamazoo’s scoring streak and turned the ball over to the Belles, who answered the Hornets with a six-point tear of their own, while facing and breaking match point three times.

Belles coach Toni Elyea said the offense really clicked in the first two games because of consistent hitting and the setting performance of freshman setter Claire McMillan.

“[Junior middle hitter] Melanie Kuczek did an amazing job hitting above .400,” Elyea said. “Claire had 53 set assists as a freshman. That’s spectacular.”

Saint Mary’s opened the second game with an eight-point run before cruising to a 25-10 victory won by a spike from junior outside hitter Brooke Fowler. Kalamazoo landed only two kills to the Belles’ 13. Service or attack errors by the Belles provided the other eight points for the Hornets.

Elyea said the defense helped the offense dominate.

“We had great defense which enabled us to set up our offense well,” Elyea said.

But Kalamazoo bounced back in the third game to out-spike the Belles 20 to 15 and win 26-24.

Games four and five were also closely contested, two-point games.

After winning game four 26-24, the Hornets struck early to snag game five 19-17. Saint Mary’s clawed back from an early deficit to a 17-17 tie but could not finish the deal. Sophomore outside hitter Nya Greenstone sealed the game for Kalamazoo.

Elyea said she was not disappointed in her team’s effort against such a talented offense.

“Kalamazoo is an extremely tough, well-balanced attacking team, and we played extremely well,” Elyea said. “We came up with a lot of plays when we really needed it, and we only lost by two points. It could have gone either way.”

On defense, junior libero Meredith Mersits (23), sophomore outside hitter Katie Hecklinski (20) and Grady (15) propelled the team with double-digit digs. Elyea praised her defense.

“Our defense did a phenomenal job tonight,” Elyea said. “We had four players in double digit digs, and leading the way was Meredith Mersits with 23. Katie Hecklinski, who’s only a three-rotation girl had 20. We just had an amazing match defensively as a team.”

Schneider led the Belles with 21 kills, and Greenstone powered the Hornets with 20 kills.

Despite the loss, Elyea said she is ready to prepare for Saint Mary’s next opponent, Albion.

“It’s early in the season, early in the system, and we have a lot to work on,” Elyea said. “We’re looking forward to getting in the gym tomorrow because we have another tough match coming up against Albion.”

Next up for the Belles is their home opener Friday at 7 p.m. versus Albion.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu