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SMC Tennis: Belles prep for tournament

Jack Hefferon | Friday, April 29, 2011

The cards are on the table for No. 4 Saint Mary’s after a successful regular season, its best since 2008. Now, the senior-laden squad will head to Kalamazoo, Mich., for the MIAA tournament in search of three more wins.

First up for the Belles (12-7, 5-3 MIAA) will be No. 5 Calvin. In a hard-fought regular season showdown, Saint Mary’s beat the Knights (8-9, 5-3) 5-4. The Belles took an early lead in that match by winning two of three doubles matches, and a late 6-2, 7-5 victory by senior Mary Therese Lee earned the decisive point for the team.

In the upcoming first-round match of the tournament, Belles coach Dale Campbell believes early momentum in doubles play may again decide the victor.

“Opening up strong in doubles play is very important for us,” Campbell said. “We lost two close doubles matches last week against [No. 3] Kalamazoo, and we feel like that set the tone for that loss.”

In the end though, the Belles coach said this pairing will likely be the most even-matched contest of the tournament and may once again come down to the last set.

“I expect us to play Calvin tight again,” Campbell said. “There were lots of close matches last time, and I think it will come down to the last match again.”

If Saint Mary’s beats the Knights, it could be headed for a matchup against MIAA Regular Season Champion No. 1 Albion. In their conference opener in March, the Belles lost 7-2 to the Britons (11-2, 8-0), winning only one singles and one doubles match. Albion ran the table in conference competition, establishing itself as a national power with several non-conference victories.

While Saint Mary’s has struggled against top competition this year, finishing 0-3 against the top three MIAA teams, Campbell believes his squad has the ability to beat anyone.

“I expect us to come out and play hard, and be very hungry against those top teams,” he said. “It will take a lot of believing in ourselves and just executing what we know we have to do.”

As the last chance at a tournament championship and an NCAA berth for Saint Mary’s core of five seniors, Campbell expects his players to approach their matches with a sense of urgency and to leave everything on the court.

“We’re really looking forward to the competition at this tournament,” he said. “We have a great group of seniors that know what’s at stake. We had a much better regular season this year, and we feel confident heading into the tournament. We’re hoping to reach some new territory this time around.”

The Belles’ tournament weekend will begin Friday in Kalamazoo, Mich., at 9 a.m.