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SMC Volleyball: Balanced Belles squad tackles tough MIAA foe

Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, September 7, 2006

Even after a tough loss to Hope College Tuesday, the Belles are still a team to be reckoned with in the MIAA – something they hope to prove against Olivet tonight at 7 p.m. in the Angela Athletic Facility.

The Belles (4-1, 0-1 MIAA) have had a strong start so far this year, thanks to their depth. Saint Mary’s head coach Julie Schroeder-Biek said she is impressed with the way everyone in the starting six has contributed.

“The neat thing about this team is we’re very balanced,” Schroeder-Biek said. “I’m just looking for solid performance out of [the whole team] with the strong leadership from the seniors.”

Saint Mary’s captured the season-opening Thunder Invitational title this weekend, winning all four of its games in the event. The Belles topped conference foes Albion 3-2 (30-16, 27-30, 17-30, 30-10, 15-6) and Tri-State 3-1 (30-20, 31-33, 30-19, 30-28) on Friday. On Saturday, they beat Goshen 3-1 (27-30, 30-12, 30-19, 30-14) and Huntington 3-1 (32-30, 30-20, 17-30, 30-26)

One of the senior leaders of the team – Kristen Playko – has helped the team immensely in their first five games. Playko leads the Belles in kills-per-game (3.38), total attacks (211) and digs (77).

But Saint Mary’s has been getting help from more than just its seniors, as sophomore middle block Cathy Kurczak and freshman outside hitter Lorna Slupczynski have been consistent in the first five games of the season. Kuczak has been crucial to the offense, leading the team with a .352 attack percentage while Slupczynski ranks third on the team in both kills per game (2.15) and digs per game (3.25).

Despite the impressive stats, the Belles still have the taste of a tough 3-1 loss to Hope in their mouths. The team struggled in large part due to minor faults, such as lapses in defensive focus, as opposed to big mistakes – according to Schroeder-Biek.

Saint Mary’s will try to improve on these minor details to win against Olivet, but had only Wednesday to prepare for the Comets.

“They’ve got a new coach this year, a lot of the scouting reports are no good any more,” Schroeder-Biek said. “One of their right hitters has been doing well but they started in a slump [losing their first four games] but I don’t know about the quality of that tournament.”

On the other side of the net, Olivet is reeling from their four straight losses to start the season, in part to their attempt to change systems under first year head coach John Miller.

“It was a rough start record wise but any time you come in to a new program with a new coach and unfortunately with the tradition here at Olivet that hasn’t been the strongest,” Miller said. “You’re going to have roadblocks and you’re going to have to make adjustments.”

The Comets are also trying to focus on improving their own play instead of their upcoming match against Saint Mary’s.

“I’m just looking for us to play Olivet volleyball,” Miller said. “We can’t worry about what Julie [Schroeder-Biek] has down there or anybody else in the MIAA right now. We just have to focus on ourselves because we have a lot of areas on which we need to improve.”