Belles face stiff test in opening tournament
Josh Dulany | Wednesday, August 27, 2014
The Belles open their season this weekend at the Mount Union Classic in Alliance, Ohio, with four matches Friday and Saturday.
Last season, Saint Mary’s went 12-15 (8-8 MIAA) and secured a berth in the conference tournament, which features the top four teams in the MIAA, for the first time since 2008. Saint Mary’s brings back several players from last year, including three crucial team members in sophomore Clare McMillan, junior Katie Hecklinski and senior Kati Schneider.
As a freshman, McMillan tallied 922 assists, the most by a Saint Mary’s rookie since 2003. Schneider was named to the all-MIAA first team and Hecklinski garnered second team all-conference honors. Schneider and Hecklinski led the team in both kills and digs. Schneider led the team with 389 kills and Hecklinski recorded 296, while Schneider’s 329 digs were second only to Hecklinski’s 379.
Coach Toni Elyea said she is counting on Schnieder and Hecklinsski to be the team’s leaders but emphasized it will take a team effort to succeed.
“(Schneider and Hecklinski) have earned all-MIAA honors, but for usm it is always a team effort,” Elyea said. “Schneider is a great outside hitter, and we definitely look to the two of them, but the way it always is for us is about being a whole team. If we are passing the ball well and communicating, it will all come together.”
This tournament is the Belles’ only action before a stretch of seven consecutive MIAA games, and Elyea said this weekend is critical to get the season started off right.
“We are facing teams with really talented returning players, but we have the same thing,” Elyea said. “We want to go in and be competitive, so we will be prepared to be competitive in conference play. That’s what this is about and going in and being really competitive is our main goal.”
In the weekend’s action, the Belles will face Bethany, Mount Union, John Carroll and Lawrence. Three of the four teams are coming off winning seasons, and all were competitive in their respective conferences.
Bethany is coming off a third consecutive 30-win season and was picked first in the President’s Athletic Conference preseason poll. The Bison return the majority of their team, which includes two first team all-PAC selections in junior Mackenzie Lauber and sophomore Dylana McKenzie.
Mount Union set a school record last year with 31 matches and is ranked 10th in the AVCA coaches’ preseason poll. They return senior Nicole Snyder, who is only 71 kills shy of recording 1,000 in her career.
John Carroll went 21-10 last year and returns six players who were freshman a season ago. That includes the Ohio Athletic Conference’s reigning freshman of the year, Kit O’Shaughnessy, who tallied 968 assists in her rookie campaign.
Lawrence will enter the tournament after last year’s 10-20 campaign. The Vikings went 5-5 in the Midwest Conference and finished sixth last year and will be a young squad this season as their roster includes nine freshmen.
Elyea said she recognizes the steep competition, but knows that Saint Mary’s will be prepared.
“We expect big things this year,” Elyea said. “We want to go in, find that starting line up and just compete at a really high level. We’re excited.”
The Belle’s open with the Bison on Friday at 5 p.m., before playing the hosts, Mount Union, at 7:30 p.m. the same night. They will conclude the tournament Saturday when they face John Carroll at 10 a.m. and wrap up with Lawrence at noon.