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SMC Tennis: Saint Mary’s travels to Alma for road tilt

Jack Hefferon | Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Belles face crunch time as they travel to Alma tonight to compete in the first of four final conference matches before the MIAA championships. Standing at .500 in conference play, Saint Mary’s hopes to end the season on a strong note.

The Belles (9-6, 2-2 MIAA) traveled to Michigan to take on conference rival Hope College Saturday looking for a win, but fell 7-2. The Flying Dutch proved too powerful for Saint Mary’s, especially in the doubles competition, where they won all three matches by four games or more. Belles coach Dale Campbell has emphasized improving doubles play all year, and after Saturday’s result, he increased his efforts in practice to work on that crucial aspect.

“In the doubles game, we need to be aggressive in both the serve game and return game,” Campbell said. “We have to attack the net more, and continue to stay on the offensive. That’s what we’ve been working on for the past couple of days.”

Moving ahead in their schedule, the Belles will head into the homestretch of their regular season slate. With such a small number of conference teams still left to face, each game is critical for Saint Mary’s standing and seeding in the conference.

While Campbell wouldn’t deny the importance of seeding for the conference championships, he insisted that his focus is on the continued strong play of his team.

“It’s important for seeding, sure,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s more important to keep improving, to play well strategically and to continue to get better for the tournament.”

Tonight’s match at Alma (6-7, 2-1) will be the first step in that journey. While the Scots are by no means a powerhouse in the conference, they carry several talented players, including the sister combo of junior Jen and sophomore Katie Meloche. Jen has played regularly at No. 1 singles for the team this year while Katie is undefeated in conference singles matches.

“Alma’s not typically one of our strongest conference opponents, but I know they want to beat us, and I know they’ll come out strong and ready to play,” Campbell said.

The Belles will be challenged across the board in singles, where Saint Mary’s only won at two spots over the weekend. Campbell believes the game will be decided in a familiar spot, however — the doubles game.

“We’ve really made the doubles game a point of emphasis for this matchup,” he said. “That’s where I’m really expecting us to come out strong tomorrow.”

Saint Mary’s and the Scots square off today at 4 p.m. in Alma, Mich.