SMC struggles in first weekend
Josh Dulany | Monday, September 1, 2014
Saint Mary’s opened its season by going 1-3 over the weekend at the Mount Union Classic in Alliance, Ohio. The Belles closed their weekend by defeating Lawrence 3-2 after dropping three hard-fought contests to Bethany, Mount Union and John Carroll.
The tournament’s opening match got off to a strong start for the Belles as they took the first set from Bethany 25-21. However, the Bison stormed back and won the next three sets to take the match and kick off Saint Mary’s season with a loss.
Next for the Belles was a Mount Union ranked tenth in the nation. Saint Mary’s failed to win a set in dropping the match 3-0, but each set was a close affair. The Purple Raiders squeaked by the Belles 25-23 in the first game and Saint Mary’s kept it even tighter in the second set before losing 28-26. Mount Union closed out the match with another taut victory at 25-22. Even in the loss, Belles’ senior Kati Schneider led all players with 15 kills and 12 digs, while becoming just the sixth player in Saint Mary’s history to tally 1,000 career kills.
Coach Toni Elyea said she was happy for her senior as well as with the way her team fought against a top-flight opponent.
“It was great to see Kati have some individual success,” Elyea said. “It was especially great as a part of our team rising to the occasion. We were playing a phenomenal team and we really stepped up. We just took a few plays off and weren’t quite as consistent as you need to be to beat a team like Mount Union, but we took a lot of positives from the match.
After their 0-2 showing on Friday, the Belles began Saturday with another tense match against John Carroll. The Blue Streaks took the first set 25-23 as they mounted a rally from down 23-19 to take the last six points of the set. Up 12-6 in the second set, the Belles again failed to stay in front and John Carroll ultimately took a 2-0 lead with a 25-20 victory. The Belles bounced back to take the third set, 25-21, but fell apart in the fourth set, 25-11.
Elyea said she was disappointed with the opportunities the Belles let get away.
“We had a lot of things not go our way,” Elyea said. “We were having some difficulties with a new rotation and we really just seemed to lack mental focus and let some points get away.”
Looking to avoid a winless tournament, the Belles faced another 0-3 team in Lawrence. The Vikings kept the Belles at bay to win the first set, 25-20, but the Belles dominated the next set 25-9 to knot the match at 1-1. In the third set, Saint Mary’s had leads of 24-22, 25-24, 26-25 and 27-26, but Lawrence staved off each of the set points and eventually took a 29-27 win.
The Belles responded with another commanding victory at 25-14 to force a fifth and decisive set. The Belles took the lead early and held off the Vikings down the stretch to get a 15-12 win and improve to 1-3 on the season. Junior Katie Hecklinski led the Belles with 13 kills, while Schneider led the team with 21 digs.
“We were finally able to kind of play the way we wanted,” Elyea said. “We had changed up the rotation again and we hit much better in the last three sets. We ran the offense the way we wanted and that helped us be much more consistent.”
Schneider’s play over the course of the weekend earned her all-tournament team honors.
“That’s a great honor for Kati to be one of the top six players in a tournament like that,” Elyea said. “She was great for us, especially on defense where she averaged around 3.75 digs per set and was just extremely vital to our success, particularly in the last game.”
The Belles now move in to their conference schedule, which begins Tuesday when they visit Alma. After facing the Scots, Saint Mary’s has five consecutive home conference matches and Elyea said she hopes her squad can get off to a quality start amid the challenges of MIAA play.
“We have a tough week,” Elyea said. “It’s going to be about getting better. We have to be more consistent, especially on our hitting – we have to do better than nine percent on hitting. It’s about eliminating unforced errors and just staying focused. We can do it and it will be good to get out there and get started.”
The Belles play Alma on Tuesday in Alma, Mich. The match is scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m.