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SMC Tennis: Florida sun promises Belles heated contests

Chris Khorey | Friday, March 10, 2006

After posting an 8-9 record and finishing fifth at the MIAA tournament last year, the Belles hope more experience will carry them to the top of the league in 2006.

Their first test comes this week with seven matches over six days during the team’s annual spring trip to Orlando.

The Belles face Urainas Sunday at 2 p.m. to kick off their season and follow that contest with a matchup against Minnesota State-Mankato 8 a.m. Monday.

“We’re hoping to win the conference this year,” sophomore Tara O’Brien said. “I think we have a good shot. Everyone’s been playing really well.”

Saint Mary’s returns four of its top six players. The only losses are No. 2 singles/No. 2 doubles Miranda Mikulyuk and No. 6 singles/No. 3 doubles Mary Beth Pavela.

O’Brien said team practices have been more intense than last season.

“We’ve done more conditioning this year than we have in past years,” she said.

The Belles ran hot and cold last season sustaining a four game losing streak in mid-season then ending the year with four straight wins. Saint Mary’s beat the teams it was supposed to – sweeping every match against MIAA bottom-feeders Alma, Olivet, and Tri-State – but was unable to keep pace with the conference’s top squads. The Belles lost to Calvin, Hope and Kalamazoo by a combined score of 25-2.

In 2006, Saint Mary’s will feed off its returning experience. No. 1 singles/No. 1 doubles Kristen Palombo returns for her senior year after compiling a 9-8 singles record last season. Palombo won the MIAA individual title at No. 2 singles her freshman and sophomore years and took third in No. 1 singles last year.

No. 3 singles/No. 2 doubles Caile Mulcahy and No. 4 singles/No. 2 doubles Kelly McDavitt joins O’Brien (No. 5 singles/No. 3 doubles) in returning for the Belles.

Perhaps the most important returnee for the Belles is coach Dee Stevenson. Stevenson has coached at Saint Mary’s since 2001, compiling a 64-19 record, two undefeated conference schedules and the Belles’ only NCAA tournament appearance in 2002.

“He’s a great coach and a great guy,” O’Brien said. “He knows a lot about tennis, and he wants us to think and plan our shots rather than hitting it as hard as we can.”