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SMC VOLLEYBALL: Belles make weekend’s losses learning experience

Tom Brennan | Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Defeats rarely breed confidence.

For Saint Mary’s volleyball coach Julie Schroeder-Biek, however, this weekend’s setbacks provide optimism for the future.

The Belles competed Friday and Saturday at the Elmhurst College Invitational in Elmhurst, Ill. Saint Mary’s fell to Wisconsin-Oshkosh and host Elmhurst on Friday and lost to the College of St. Scholastica on Saturday.

The lone victory for the Belles came in the team’s final match Saturday against Blackburn.

Despite the three defeats, though, Schroeder-Biek was pleased with her team’s performance because of the quality of the opposing teams. Elmhurst, a traditional Division II volleyball power, is ranked No. 12 by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, while the poll rates Wisconsin-Oshkosh No. 28 nationally.

Schroeder-Biek feels Saint Mary’s competitive play with such talented teams should translate into successes against lesser opponents when conference play begins.

“Friday night, I was so proud of the team,” Schroeder-Biek said of the Belles’ performances against Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Elmhurst. “We played so well, and it was incredibly high caliber volleyball. We challenged them, and that was wonderful for me to see.”

Saint Mary’s had some serious questions heading into the tournament. The team did not have a single experienced setter on the roster. Schroeder-Biek called on junior Amanda David and was thrilled with the results.

“She’s a great athlete, and she stepped into that role,” Schroeder-Biek said. “No one in that gym would have known she was a first-year setter.”

Schroeder-Biek was also happy with the balance her team displayed in the tournament, with many different players chipping in.

“I can’t even say that there was one standout,” Schroeder-Biek said. “I just think they played so well as a team.”

Wisconsin-Oshkosh downed the Belles quickly in three games – 30-22, 30-27, 30-14. Outside hitter Michelle Turley and Kristen Playko spearheaded the Saint Mary’s attack with nine kills apiece in the match. David recorded 27 assists, while junior right side attacker Ann Carpenter finished with an impressive .615 hitting percentage on 8 kills.

The Belles only lasted three games against Elmhust as well, losing 30-15, 30-25, 30-22. Playko contributed 5 kills and a match high 14 digs. Senior Shelly Bender and freshman Catherine Kurzak both added five kills of their own, while Carpenter paced Saint Mary’s with 7 kills.

Schroeder-Biek loved the way her team fought it out with a tough Elmhurst squad.

“They didn’t walk all over us by any means,” the coach said. “They had to fight for points just like we had to fight for points.”

In Saturday’s first match, Saint Mary’s was disappointed to again drop three straight games – 30-28, 30-27, 32-30. The Belles played even with St. Scholastica throughout, but could not come up with the big points in the end. Playko again played well with 20 kills, while junior Anne Cusack defended nicely with 15 digs.

Schroeder-Biek wishes things had turned out differently against St. Scholastica.

“Any one of those games could have been ours – it was so tight,” Schroeder-Biek said. “That was the only game I can tell you that I’m disappointed in.”

Saint Mary’s ended the tournament on a high note, easily edging a weak Blackburn team – 30-7, 30-12, 30-25. Playko recorded 16 kills, and Carpenter added another 14 digs.

With MIAA play set to open Wednesday against Hope College at the Angela Athletic Center, Schroeder-Biek feels that the experience of playing against two top teams this weekend will translate into significant strides within the conference.

“I just feel like how we played Friday night, if we play like that we are going to climb up the conference ladder and we are going to challenge for the top,” Schroeder-Biek said.