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SMC Athletics: Taking the next step

Ellyn Michalak | Friday, August 24, 2007

The four Saint Mary’s fall sports team’s, which all ranked in the middle of their conferences in the 2006 season, look to take the next step and compete for spots in the top of the MIAA in 2007.

VolleyballAfter finishing 17-10 and fourth in the MIAA last year, Saint Mary’s wants to finish even higher in the league standings.”I want to see us challenge for the top spot in the conference,” Belles coach Julie Schroeder-Biek said. “We have been making a climb and I expect us to continue that climb. We gained a lot of confidence as a squad this past season.” Last season, senior Anne Cusack won the conference’s defensive player of the year award and Lorna Slupczynski earned freshman-of-the-year honors. Junior setter Amanda David was fourth in the MIAA in assists per game.And while Cusack has graduated, Slupczynski and David are back to lead an experienced squad that includes hitters Kaela Hellmann and Cathy Kurczak.”Those two lead our team in attack percentage,” Schroeder-Biek said of Hellman and Kurczak. “And rounding out the returning key players is senior defensive specialist, Marissa Gross. She is a very powerful player and positive court presence.”Saint Mary’s begins its season with the Monmouth tournament on Sept. 1 with three matches in a single day of play. They first will face Robert Morris College at 9 a.m., followed by a match against Loras College at 1 p.m. and a third match later in the day, with the opponent determined by the results of the day’s early matches.The Belles open their conference slate on Sept. 4 against Adrian College on the road. Adrian was ranked third in the MIAA last season with a league record of 12-4. “I am really looking forward to another great year. We grew so much last year and earned a lot of respect within our conference and within our region,” Schroeder-Biek said, “Despite the losses of our very strong senior class, I don’t look at this as a building year. We will just continue to work hard and not take our eye off our goal.”

Cross CountryThe Belles finished in fifth place in the MIAA in the 2006 season, and they are hoping to perform better and move into the upper half MIAA teams this fall. Saint Mary’s score of 125 at last year’s MIAA championships earned it its best conference finish in Belles history. Coach Jackie Bauers said she thinks the young squad can do even better.”The team is going to be very different this season, with eight of our seniors graduating and nine freshman joining the team,” she said. Among the key returners are senior Megan Gray, junior Alicen Miller, junior Caitlin Stevenson and sophomore Emily Graf.Last season, Gray earned first-team MIAA honors and became the first Saint Mary’s runner to compete in the NCAA Division III Championship. Megan McClowery also will be a key runner for the squad. Competing last year as the Belles’ top freshman, McClowery never finished worse than fifth place in any race. Bauters said this year’s freshmen will have a similar impact.”We have a wonderful group of freshmen bringing a ton of talent to the team this year. I believe that the program and team continue to grow and strengthen every year,” Bauters said. “We are looking to improve within the conference this year, placing better at both our Jamboree [at Tri-State] and Conference Championship [at Albion].”The Belles will kick off their season on Sept. 1 at the Tri-State Invitational in Angola, Ind.

GolfAlthough the 2006-07 Saint Mary’s golf squad failed to win the MIAA Championship for the first time in five years, Saint Mary’s is working hard to ensure that they regain the title. The Belles, who did not lose any players to graduation, finished fifth in the MIAA last year, but coach Mark Hamilton believes a year of experience will pay off with dramatic improvement. “Katie O’Brien is a returning senior who we expect to lead the team both on and off the course,” he said. “She has been playing golf all summer in tournaments in Florida. I am positive that she will come back this season stronger than ever.” During the 2005 season, O’Brien received second-team honors in the MIAA. In addition to O’Brien, Hamilton looks to juniors Meredith Fantom and Perri Hamma to lead the team. Fantom and Hamma both consistently shot rounds in the low 90s last year.While the upperclassmen will try to pick up where they left off, Hamilton is also counting on the incoming freshmen to perform at a top-notch level. “We have a pretty big freshman group joining the team this fall,” he said. “A big determinant of our season will be up to freshman. This is definitely one of the best freshman classes we’ve ever brought in.”The Belles begin their season on Sept. 1 at the Ferris State Invitational. The tournament includes a mixture of top Division II and Division III schools. The Belles will have a chance to compete against DePauw University who is ranked No. 2 in Division III. “The tournament will be a great chance to get a first look at our conference rivals. We will be able to get an early look at how we will stack up against this year’s competition,” Hamilton said.

SoccerUnder the coaching of four-year veteran Caryn MacKenzie, the Belles captured fourth place in the MIAA in the 2006 fall season with a 4-3-1 conference record and a 5-8-2 overall record.After graduating six seniors last season, the Belles return 14 players, nine of whom played in all 15 games last year, and add nine freshmen. At forward, the loss of top scorer Ashley Hinton will be filled by her sister, junior Lauren Hinton. Ashley Hinton scored seven goals while assisting six others in the 2006 season and scored 21 career goals. She was also twice named to the MIAA’s first team. Lauren Hinton also scored seven goals last season.The Belles also have to replace a four-year starter at goalkeeper. Laura Heline had 94 saves in 2006 and started all but one game in the past four years. Her replacement has not yet been named.MacKenzie will be looking to sophomores Micki Hedinger and Katie Wehrli to fill the forward positions. While Hedinger scored two goals last season, Wehrli started 11 of the 15 games played by the Belles. After allowing only 1.5 goals per game in 2006, returning defenders senior Sarah DuBree, senior Justine Higgins, and junior Mandy Thompson will be key parts to the Belles defense.Saint Mary’s will play its first non-conference game of the season on Sept. 1 at Case Western. Their conference season will begin Sept. 22 at Saint Mary’s against Kalamazoo College, who finished behind the Belles in 2006.