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Belles take third in Calvin

Joe Meixell | Monday, September 22, 2008

After winning three of their last four matches, including two conference victories, the Belles came into the DePauw Invitational sharp and determined.

Saint Mary’s (9-4, 2-2 MIAA) scratched and clawed its way to a third place finish at the tournament, finishing 3-1 on the weekend, with junior Lorna Slupczynski earning All-Tournament honors for the second time this season. Heidelberg College cruised to a first-place finish, besting three of four opponents in straight sets to claim victory at the DePauw University-hosted tournament in Greencastle, Ind.

While the Belles’ defense has been outstanding all season long, the squad has struggled at times offensively. Saint Mary’s head coach Julie Schroeder-Biek was proud of her team’s offensive consistency over the weekend.

“We have been struggling through a few things offensively,” Schroeder-Biek said. “Primarily with just learning each other, new setters learning the tendencies and strengths of their attackers, attackers learning the same things about the setters. Over the weekend, we worked very well together, and our attack was strong.”

On Saturday, the Belles split their first two bracket matches. Saint Mary’s brushed aside North Central in four sets (25-14, 20-25, 25-21, 25-15) before dropping a closely fought match against eventual runner-up DePauw (27-25, 21-25, 25-23, 25-21).

The Belles triumphed over Anderson in their final and crucial bracket match Sunday morning, rallying from an early deficit in the five-set victory (17-25 25-16 25-17 23-25 15-13). Senior Cathy Kurczak led the offense for Saint Mary’s with 13 kills, two service aces, and three block assists, while emerging playmaker sophomore Jacee Watson also had a solid game with nine kills and a pair of block assists of her own. Sophomore Meghann Rose helped carry the defense with 27 digs.

The nail-biting victory put the Belles into the third place match for their final contest of the tournament. Gallaudette, who narrowly escaped their morning match against Rose-Hulman, came out flat-footed as Saint Mary’s rolled over them in the first two sets to gain a 2-0 advantage.

The Bison collected themselves and evened the match with two hard-fought wins in the next two sets as the normally stout Belles defense crumbled. Saint Mary’s stamped out any notions of a Gallaudette rally with a dominating 15-7 final set to clinch third place.

Four different Belles had at least 10 kills in the victory. Slupczynski led the way with 13 kills, while senior Kaela Hellmann added 11. Watson and Kurczak both had 10 kills to round out the Saint Mary’s attack. Freshman Danielle Brink contributed a solid effort with four kills in 12 attempts, 25 assists, six digs, a service ace, and two solo blocks.

Schroeder-Biek said she was pleased by the team-wide effort. She has emphasized emotion and teamwork in the play of her young squad.

“What I think it comes down to is connections,” Schroeder-Biek said. “We need to stay connected with our teammates, we need to celebrate our successes on the court and pick each other up when we are down. We need to connect as teammates before we can expect to really compete as a team.”

The Belles return home to host Kalamazoo College for an MIAA match on Tuesday at 6 p.m.