SMC Year in Review
Joe Meixell | Thursday, May 14, 2009
With a young team and a new coach, the Belles took their hits this season.
Saint Mary’s (2-13-1, 1-7 MIAA), led by first-year head coach Ryan Crabbe, struggled to score goals, tallying an average of one per match while giving up just over two per contest.
“Our record does not reflect it, but we are a much better team than it shows,” Crabbe said towards the end of the season in October. “I have full confidence that these players want to succeed and I know they can compete with any team that steps on the field against them.”
After a slow start to the season, dropping their first three matches against tough non-conference opponents, the Belles rebounded by winning the North Central tournament for the second year in a row. The Belles took out Mount Mercy 2-0 in the first round before knocking off host North Central in a shootout to claim the championship.
The conference schedule, however, proved unkind to the Belles as they dropped their first four contests, including a double-overtime loss at Hope College. Saint Mary’s picked up its only win in MIAA competition at home with a 4-0 result against Trine University.
“One thing I have been most proud of with this team this season is the fact that they continue to show up every day and work hard to get better,” Crabbe said in October. “Even with the frustration of our lack of results on the field in terms of wins, these players continue to compete every time they are out on the field.”
Senior Lauren Hinton led the team with five goals and two assists, earning a spot on the All-MIAA team. Junior Micki Hedinger was right behind her with three goals and two assists on the season.
After establishing a reputation as one of the most disciplined and consistent teams in the MIAA last year, the Belles welcome the arrival of Toni Kuschel as their new head coach. Kuschel will follow in the footsteps of coach Julie Schroeder-Biek, who guided Saint Mary’s to an 18-11 (9-7 MIAA) season.
Schroeder-Biek was a member of the Belles’ coaching staff since 1986 and served as head coach for 14 seasons before being named the athletic director of Saint Mary’s College. Kuschel, a Minnesota native, has served in a variety of coaching capacities at the high school, Junior Olympic and collegiate levels.
“We are very excited for [Kuschel] to come on board and become a part of our department,” Schroeder-Biek said. “She has a true passion for coaching and will bring great energy to the program.”
The Belles’ record was an improvement over the previous season’s 6-10 mark in league play (fifth place) and 12-17 overall, and the squad demonstrated giant leaps in consistency and team effort. Standout junior hitter Lorna Slupczynski paced the offense with a team-high 3.14 kills per game, while freshman setter Danielle Brink added a .323 attacking percentage and 8.25 assists per game, both team highs.
Both Slupczynski and senior hitter Cathy Kurczak earned All-MIAA honors for their efforts. Kurczak’s 34 blocks lead the team. Kurczak departs alongside fellow senior Kaela Hellmann, who finished second on the team in both kills and service aces.
“I was really excited to see what [Hellmann and Kurczak] brought to the squad during their final season,” Schroeder-Biek said. “They have both been key players since their first year and stepped up their play every year.”
Led all season by junior Megan McClowry, the Belles finished fourth in the MIAA and 17th at NCAA Regionals with a young team this season.
“The difference for me this season is due to summer training,” McClowry said. “I was able to come in with a good base and then my teammates have helped push the pace at workouts this season.”
McClowry also earned second team All-MIAA honors for the Belles at the conference meet.
One of the highlights of the Belles season was hosting the MIAA Jamboree early in the season. This race was the Belles first home meet since 2002.
“I was so excited to finally have a home meet,” senior captain Caitlin Brodmerkel said. “The Saint Mary’s cross country team is such a great group of women and we have a difficult time getting people to see that since we always compete so far from campus.”
Brodmerkel was able to set a personal record at the Calvin Invite for the Belles, and attributed much of her success to summer training.
“I actually spent my summer in a rural village in Uganda,” Brodmerkel said. “Therefore, my off-season training consisted of early morning runs on the dirt roads of Uganda as the sun rose.”
Saint Mary’s was led by underclassmen throughout a season filled with ups and downs, finishing 4-7 in the regular season and fifth in the MIAA Swimming and Diving Championships.
“I think our season went great this year,” freshman Eva Cavadini said. “Our team is a great team and we have a lot of fun together, which is one of the most important things when it comes to swimming.”
Cavadini, along with sophomore Maggie Williams and freshman Audrey Dalrymple, led the Belles, both individually and on relay teams. Dalrymple recorded the best time for the Belles in four different events, and Williams and Cavadini each posted team-best times in three events.
All three swimmers were also members of the top 200- and 400-yard medley relay teams for the Belles. The 400-yard medley relay broke the school record during the MIAA Championships, a moment that Cavadini said was the best of the year.
“We had been trying all year to break that record, and we knew we could but I think we needed the extra energy that comes at a big meet like conference to help push us to get that record,” Cavadini said. “It was one of the best feelings I have ever had at a swim meet.”
Dalrymple achieved the best individual success, qualifying for the “B” cut at nationals for Division III in both the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke, becoming the first Belle to compete in the NCAA Championships. She finished 26th in the 100 breaststroke and 17th in the 200 breaststroke to finish the season.
“[Dalrymple] is a great worker,” Belles coach Ryan Dombkowski said. “I look for big things from her.”
The Belles fell in the opening round of the MIAA Conference tournament last weekend to Albion, but bounced back to win their next two matches over Adrian and Olivet to finish in fifth place.
“A highlight for me was our conference match against Albion,” head coach Dale Campbell said. “We had played them previously and lost, and our match in the tournament was much closer. It showed me that we had gotten better as a team, improved our doubles play, and could rise to the occasion in a big moment.”
Junior Camille Gebert was able to finish off her undefeated season at No. 2 singles, earning 18 wins on the season. This was the second consecutive season a Belle finished the season undefeated at No. 2 singles as sophomore Jillian Hurley also won every match last season.
Hurley was named to the first team All-MIAA, while Gebert earned second team honors. This was the second straight year for both to earn postseason honors.
“I don’t believe it was a surprise, but [sophomore] Jessica Kosinski had a great season and improved her game and mental toughness throughout the year,” Campbell said. “[Sophomore] Franca Peluso played better late in the year and broke into the singles lineup. Jillian Hurley was named first team All-Conference at No. 1 and Camille Gebert was second team All-Conference and went undefeated in our conference at No. 2.”
Kosinski made the move from No. 4 singles last season to No. 3 this year for the Belles (11-10, 4-4).
“My goal when starting this season was to play No. 3 singles,” Kosinski said. “I worked extremely hard in try-outs to prove I deserved the spot.”
Although a season that started out with great promise ended without a playoff berth for the talented Belles, they finished the 2009 season knowing they left it all on the line every time they took the field.
Saint Mary’s (22-10, 6-6 MIAA) began the season on a tear, sweeping its first two opponents in back-to-back doubleheaders and winning six of its first eight games. But after dropping eight consecutive games – including six conference contests – the Belles were virtually eliminated from postseason play.
The Belles were led all season by the outstanding pitching of freshman standouts Monica Palicki and Angela Gillis. Palicki finished the year with 10 wins, an ERA of 3.15 and an opponent’s batting average of .269. Gillis completed her sensational collegiate debut with 12 wins, 2.19 ERA, and 49 strikeouts.
“[Gillis] is just one of the most composed pitchers I think I’ve ever seen,” head coach Erin Sullivan said. “If someone gets a hit off her, you can see it in her face that she wants to get the next out. She never overreacts, she’s never overemotional.”
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the year came midway through the season when the Belles swept nonconference opponent Robert Morris in a day-night doubleheader. The victory in the nightcap marked the fourth-straight season that the Belles won at least 20 games, a feat that can be attributed to the leadership of Sullivan in her fourth year in the position of head coach.
“My seniors, from the day they got here as freshmen, have just changed the program and set a new tone for us,” Sullivan said.
Seniors Ashley Fusaro and Katie Rashid finished their remarkable careers with a total of 100 victories in four seasons, a Saint Mary’s softball record.
For the fourth time in program history, Saint Mary’s will be competing at the NCAA Division III Championships. In the third and final qualifying round of the MIAA Championship, the No. 22 Belles held off a surge from Olivet to clinch an automatic bid to the national tournament.
“Clinching the national championship bid was one of our main goals this season, like every season,” head coach Mark Hamilton said. “We really worked hard this season to get a cohesive group that shared the same mindset and goals.
“[Sophomore] Emily Gore finally recovered from what seemed like eight months of injury and illness to play her best golf when we needed it,” Hamilton said. “The effort of the entire team cannot be stressed enough, but we did have some strong individual leaders.”
At the fall MIAA Championships sophomore Rosie O’Connor became the fifth Belle in the past six years – and the youngest Saint Mary’s golfer – to earn MIAA Season Medalist honors, edging out Lindsay Pipkin of Olivet by one stroke. Senior Perri Hamma finished with a 174 on the weekend to tie for seventh place. Freshman Natalie Matuszak and Gore both finished with two-day totals of 175 to tie for ninth place.
“This young team is in the beginning stages of creating it’s own legacy, they have only scratched the surface of what they are capable of,” Hamilton said.
In the second round of MIAA National Championship qualifying this spring, the team stayed on track for a bid to represent the MIAA, taking a one-stroke lead over Olivet with a 332. Sophomore Mary Kate Boyce shared medalist honors on the day with an 80 while Gore shot an 82 for fifth.
The Belles will compete this week for the Division III national championship in Port St. Lucie, Fla.