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SMC Volleyball

Belles on verge of MIAA tournament but fall just short

| Friday, May 13, 2016

Under the guidance of first-year head coach Denise Van De Walle, Saint Mary’s succeeded in achieving its second 15-win season in a row but fell short of earning a spot in the MIAA tournament.

Van De Walle said a part of her was disappointed the team came up short, but she was also happy with how far it progressed throughout the season.

“I was new to Saint Mary’s,” Van De Walle said. “I started my job the day before the season started. I knew the team had lost six seniors from the year before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. So I was pleased with our 15 wins and how well we started the year. However, the competitor in me was disappointed we didn’t make the conference tournament.”

The Belles (15-13, 7-9 MIAA) started their season by going 10-4 in their first 14 games, including 6-1 in nonconference matches. Two of those early four loses, however, came to MIAA foes Calvin and Hope.

“The toughest competition that we faced this year was Calvin and Hope,” Van De Walle said. “Both have won national championships, both have very good teams year in and year out. Their skill level is very high, and they are used to winning.”

The next month of play, however, proved difficult for the Belles, as they lost seven times in ten matches. The injury of junior outside hitter Meaghan Gibbons had a huge impact on the team’s play during that stretch, Van De Walle said. But Saint Mary’s bounced back with wins in two of its last four matches, including a nonconference win over Kenyon to close out its season.

The Belles graduate two seniors, outside hitter Katie Hecklinski — who was selected by MIAA coaches as a First Team All-MIAA honoree — and defensive specialist Angela Bukur. Van De Walle said both contributed greatly to the team in different ways.

SMC senior defensive specialist Angela Bukur lunges for the ball in the Belles’ win over Manchester on Sept. 1 at Angela Athletic Facility.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

SMC senior defensive specialist Angela Bukur lunges for the ball in the Belles’ win over Manchester on Sept. 1 at Angela Athletic Facility.

“Katie and Angela were two great seniors who had different roles on the team,” Van De Walle said. “Angela was a role player for us. She had limited playing time, was a total team player and was definitely loved by the team for how she gave 100 percent of herself every day. Katie was our captain and the driving force of the team. She was our go-to player. She was the player every team in the conference knew about. She was a First team All-MIAA selection, which tells you how good of a player she was for us.

“You can’t replace senior leadership, their understanding of the game and the inner workings of the program. They both had a big impact on the team in different ways.”

The rest of Saint Mary’s roster will be back next season and continue to train over the summer in order to secure a third consecutive 15-win season.

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