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Belles ready to take on Alma

Ryan Kiefer | Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Coming into the season with no setting experience on the roster, the Saint Mary’s volleyball team knew it would have trouble filling the setter position.

They had no idea it would be this difficult.

The Belles will enter tonight’s MIAA quarterfinal match at Alma with Kristen Playko and Shelly Bender setting. Neither has played the position this season.

Amanda David filled the setter role early in the year, but an injury two weeks ago has her on the sidelines. Michelle Turley set for the last four matches, but a test conflict will force her to miss tonight’s match.

Enter Playko and Bender.

The two have been a staple in the Belles offense this season averaging 3.46 and 2.28 kills’ per game respectively. But they have only a combined three assists all season in conference play.

Belles coach Julie Schroeder-Biek knew the changes would alter her team’s approach.

“It changes our offense significantly,” Schroeder-Biek said. “We are weaker in some areas, but stronger in others. We won’t run as quick of an offense, but we will have a bigger block up front. We are trying to look at the positives it will bring us.”

When asked why she chose Playko and Bender to fill the hole at setter, Schroeder-Biek said she wanted to put two of her best players at the crucial position.

“They are vocal and competitive, and they’re two of my best athletes,” she said.

In addition to becoming comfortable with the new offense, the sixth-seeded Belles must overcome a talented Alma team that finished 12-4 in the MIAA this season, including two 3-0 wins over Saint Mary’s.

Schroeder-Biek hopes the Belles’ defense will lead them tonight. In the midst of all the offensive changes, the Saint Mary’s defense has been strong. Libero Anne Cusack leads the MIAA with 5.75 digs per game. She and the rest of the Belles have given the team additional kill opportunities with scrappy play all season. Schroeder-Biek hopes for much of the same tonight.

“We just have to plug away defensively and keep the ball alive enough for our hitters to find holes in the block,” she said. “In watching the game tape, we feel that’s an area where we can attack them, but we need to be consistently aggressive.”

The defense will face a tall task stopping Alma’s Erin Fralick who leads the MIAA with a .497 hitting percentage. Fralick hit .636 and .679 in two matches against the Belles this season.

Schroeder-Biek said her team was confident despite the adversity and was ready to make a strong upset bid tonight.

“For us it is about stepping up into the challenges we are faced with,” she said. “The team realizes that a lot of these changes are uncontrollables. They are just rolling with it. I’m happy with the positive attitudes. They aren’t laying down like some teams would. They are ready to face the challenge.”