Saint Mary’s: Year in Review
Observer Staff Report | Thursday, May 13, 2010
After finishing the season with a record of 4-13-2 (1-6 MIAA) to mark another disappointing campaign, the Belles dismissed head coach Ryan Crabbe in the hopes of changing their recent misfortunes. Saint Mary’s now hands over the reins to Michael Joyce to take the program back to excellence.
The Belles closed out the final portion of their season by losing all three conference contests, including a 4-2 loss to rival Hope, and falling short of a conference tournament bid.
“Against Hope we put ourselves in too big of a hole to come back from,” Crabbe said. “Being down 3-0 in the second half is tough. The team competed and brought the game back to 3-2. However, we fell victim to some bad officiating and Hope gained a late 4-2 advantage. The way the game was officiated was really unfair to both teams.”
The Belles opened the season with a 3-0 win over Holy Cross and a 5-1 win over Manchester, but were unable to maintain that success over the course of the whole year.
Under the new leadership of Joyce, the Belles will be looking for big plays from underclassmen to help lead the team in the fall of 2010 and build upon their dismal conference record.
Crabbe’s tenure lasted at Saint Mary’s for only two years, yet he facilitated the development of freshman backup goalie Adele Bruggeman late in the season. Bruggeman managed to log some playing time for the Belles this season, as senior goalkeeper Patty Duffy leaves the goal for good.
“She [Bruggeman] has worked very hard,” Crabbe said. “Our goalkeeper coach Marc Colwell has done a tremendous job with both Adele and Patty this season.”
Losing nine seniors, the Belles face a significant rebuilding task ahead of them under Joyce’s direction. The program doubled its win total from last season, and looks to build on that improvement in the upcoming season with a new coach, a new core group of leaders and new underclassmen.
The Belles climbed to a .500 record after battling through the first half of their conference schedule, but several key injuries led to an eight-match losing streak to end the season with a 9-17 record.
“This season we were able to play at such a high level with everyone on the court healthy,” Belles coach Toni Kuschel said. “We did not end up in the conference where we would have liked. However, we played well as a team.”
While the injuries hurt the team’s overall performance, it did afford several players the opportunity to gain experience during a tough 5-11 conference season.
“We had a lot of players that were able to step out of their comfort zone and fill big roles on the court when key players were injured,” Kuschel said. “We will be looking for our returners to bring that kind of energy, commitment and dedication into next season. I know they are more than up for the challenge.”
Kuschel said the element of the season that most pleased her was the amount of heart the Belles showed amid the adversity that presented itself late in the season.
“This season our team had to overcome many challenges,” Kuschel said. “We could have just given up. However, that was just not in our nature. Everyone gave it all they had every time they stepped out on the court. They showed a lot of heart.”
The driving force behind the Saint Mary’s team this year was the strong corps of veteran leadership, especially from the seniors.
“I can’t say enough great things about this year’s group of seniors,” Kuschel said. “I came into this year not knowing what to expect being a new coach here at Saint Mary’s. They have truly been a joy to work with. I have certainly grown a lot as a coach in my first year and they have a lot to do with that. They were fantastic leaders and role models for their younger classmates.”
Senior Lorna Slupczynski was named to the first team all-MIAA squad for the first time.
She finished her career with the Belles with three consecutive seasons with 300 kills, finishing with 1,360 kills for her career. She also had three seasons with over 300 digs, and had 1,311 digs in her career.
Next year, Saint Mary’s will be healthy and ready to attack the MIAA schedule with a renewed fervor. The Belles will return several key players and welcome new additions as well.
“We will also have a solid group returning next season,” Kuschel said. “We will be looking for a few key freshmen to add depth and strength to our offense next year.”
Saint Mary’s had a successful season, but was ultimately denied its ultimate goal of cracking into the top three of the final MIAA conference standings. The Belles finished fourth for the third consecutive year after another up-and-down season.
“Our goal was to get top three in the MIAA, but I would still consider this year a success,” senior Megan McClowry said. “I think that in the next few years this team will achieve the goal they set for themselves.”
The Belles concluded their season at the NCAA Division III Regionals, where they finished in 17th place. Freshman Julia Kenney finished a strong rookie campaign with a 61st place overall finish at the regional tournament. Sophomore Joanne Almond finished right behind Kenney at 63rd.
McClowry provided a steady veteran presence on the team, as she turned in many solid performances this year after earning all-MIAA honors in 2008. Almond also was able to build off her previous strong performances, as she finished second for the Belles in both the conference and regional tournaments.
“We have a lot of good underclassmen who really stepped up, and I think their contributions will be vital to improving next year,” McClowry said.
One of the highlights of the season for the Belles occurred at the Calvin Invitational, where the team took sixth place overall thanks to many breakout performances. Saint Mary’s showed its mettle in a meet that featured many of the top cross country teams in the nation.
“After a hard week of training we ran against some of the top D-III teams in the country,” McClowry said, “But we came away with a slew of personal records while maintaining a tight pack throughout the race.”
With a strong combination of veterans and underclassmen poised for a strong season in 2010, Saint Mary’s appears ready to make a run at the top three teams in the conference.
For the graduating seniors like McClowry, their experience as varsity runners is one they are not soon to forget.
“I was able to develop friendships with an amazing group of women,” McClowry said. “Whether it was running into Lake Michigan after a race, celebrating with teammates at their weddings, or just eating dinner together, I have loved being a part of this team.”
The Belles certainly did not envision a winless season when they first hit the water in October, but an eight-point loss in mid-January was the closest Saint Mary’s got to a victory.
Sophomore Audrey Dalrymple, 2009’s top swimmer and national qualifier, went abroad for the spring semester, and her absence, combined with a variety of injuries, handicapped the Belles. Nonetheless, a strong freshman class emerged for the Belles.
“It was a hard transition because we had so many incoming freshman and nobody knew each other,” freshman Ellie Watson said.
In the beginning of the season, Belles coach Alicia Dombkowski predicted Watson and classmate Katie Griffin would add strength to the roster and viewed a national cut in their future.
Watson ended the season with second-place finishes in the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle events at the MIAA championships, marking a school record in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 5:09.90 and achieving an NCAA B cut in the 1650-yard freestyle with a time of 17:47.70. Her efforts throughout the season earned her a position on the 2010 All-MIAA Team.
Also in the MIAA Championships, senior Meredith Lierz ended her career with a 15th-place finish in the consolation final of the 100-yard freestyle at 55.99 seconds, senior Maggie McNicholas took 12th in the 200-yard butterfly at 2:45.83 and senior Sara Niemann took 12th in the 1,650-yard freestyle.
“By the end [of the year] we were like one family. We bonded really well throughout the season especially on our training trip during Christmas break,” Watson said. “We’ve been through a lot with each other, which helped the team as a whole.”
Although Saint Mary’s lost in the first round of the MIAA tournament, the Belles ended the season by winning five of their final six matches.
“Despite our fifth-place finish in the conference, I think we had a decent season overall,” senior Camille Gebert said. “I definitely think we could have done a lot better, as I believe we were close with teams like Albion and Kalamazoo.”
The Belles (13-9, 6-5 MIAA) ended their season with a win in the MIAA tournament over Olivet in the fifth-place match. Gebert was named first team all-MIAA and junior Jillian Hurley was named to the second team.
“Overall, the season was successful, even if the outcomes of our matches were not what we had hoped,” Hurley said. “As a team, we bonded together better than we have in previous seasons.”
In the past, Saint Mary’s had hovered in the middle of the MIAA standings. Coming into the season, the Belles felt like this was their year to rise to the top in the conference, but the 2010 campaign resulted in more of the same.
“We all had hoped this to be the year we would beat the teams we always lose to and get over the hump,” Gebert said. “I think that more has to change if we want to finish in the top three or four teams in the future.”
Part of that needed change will only come from learning from their losses Hurley said.
“I think going into the season we expected to fare better against certain teams in the conference,” Hurley said. “But even in the matches we lost there was improvement over last season.”
The Belles traveled to Orlando, Fla., over Spring Break, and came home with victories in four of their five matches.
“We started our season off strong, winning a lot over Spring Break,” Gebert said. “But we had a tough stretch of matches the second half of the spring.”
Despite the ups and downs, the one constant for the Belles was their consistent and full-hearted effort in both preparation and execution.
“Our team has a very strong work ethic,” Gebert said. “We all love the sport and I think that really shines through when we play.”
Hurley was a consistent bright spot for the Belles. At one point during the season, Hurley had won 10 straight matches at No. 1 singles and 11 straight matches at No. 2 doubles with junior Mary Therese Lee.
“Being named all-MIAA was really rewarding,” Hurley said. “It was nice to be recognized for a good season along with other outstanding players in the conference, including my teammate, Camille [Gebert].”
Gebert said her final season as a Belle was a special one because of her all-MIAA accolades and for the culmination of a career’s worth of memories playing for Saint Mary’s.
“I was really excited about being named all-MIAA again,” Gebert said. “It had been a goal of mine since the beginning of the season. It had more meaning, especially being a senior. There is a lot of talent in the MIAA and I am honored to be recognized.”
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.