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SMC Tennis

Belles aim for return to conference tournament in 2015

| Thursday, February 19, 2015

After starting off the year with a Feb. 7 loss to Aquinas, Saint Mary’s dives back into the heart of its season this Saturday with back-to-back away matches against Ohio Northern and Wittenberg.

The Belles (1-1) had not competed since the end of September prior to their loss to Aquinas, and Belles coach Dale Campbell said he sees the defeat as a learning experience for the team.

“The lessons we learn from each match and getting better is most important,” Campbell said.

The Belles are gearing up for a tough season this spring, with early nonconference matchups preparing the team for tougher MIAA competition later in the season.

“Hope and Kalamazoo, the defending No. 1 and No. 2 in our conference, should be extremely tough this year,” Campbell said. “Calvin was very tough last year too, and we cannot overlook anyone in our conference.”

The Belles are slated to square off against their first conference opponent, Hope, on Feb. 28, followed by a week-long trip in early March full of nonconference matchups before resuming conference play in mid-March. The team will square off against Calvin on April 11 and finish the regular season at Kalamazoo. The MIAA tournament features the top four teams in the conference, and Campbell said he expects the Belles to be playing in it.

“A certain goal [for the team] is to be top four in our conference, making the conference tournament,” Campbell said. “We were top four in our conference last year, but we believe we can do better this year.”

The winter has held back the Belles, forcing them to battle the injury bug and preventing them from getting in solid practices, Campbell said.

“Players [getting] sick … has made it difficult to get into a rhythm,” Campbell said. “[But] we have a deep squad and are trying to get everyone ready to contribute.”

Campbell said the Belles will rely on senior captains Shannon Elliott, Jacqueline Kjolhede and Kayle Sexton for leadership both on and off the court, as the team welcomes four freshmen to its roster. Elliott posted a career-high 12 singles wins in the 2014 season, with Kjolhede and Sexton following with 10 and nine wins, respectively. Campbell said their leadership will be valuable because the team is trying to improve its singles game.

“A heavy focus was put on our … singles game over the past week,” Campbell said. “With about five weeks of practice, we’re trying to get better every week.”

The Belles continue their season this Saturday against Ohio Northern and Wittenberg. The first match is slated to begin in Lima, Ohio, at 1 p.m., with the second following at 6:30 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio.

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