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Belles set to begin season following last year’s strong finish

Joseph Monardo | Friday, August 26, 2011

Coming off of a fourth place finish in last year’s NCAA Division III tournament, the Belles will tee off for the first time in 2011-2012 season Saturday against Bethel.

Hoping to begin the fall portion of their schedule strongly, the Belles will have to do so featuring a roster that is severely undermanned. With several players studying abroad for the semester, Saint Mary’s begins the season with only 5 golfers.

“We do not have as many players as we have had in past years, but this gives our entire team the opportunity to step up and play well,” senior Christine Brown said.

Brown and Natalie Matuszak comprise the senior class of the team.  Joining them are juniors Cara Kielty and Jessica Kinnick and freshman Janice Heffernan.

Despite the lack of depth in his roster, Belles’ coach Mark Hamilton likes the composition of his team.

“We’ve got some players that have been in the program a couple of years now,” Hamilton said. “The torch has been passed to them, so it’s time for them to step up and shine.”

Matuszak is the only returning golfer to have played for the Belles in last year’s NCAA tournament, with the other four competitors from last year’s tournament either graduated or abroad for the semester.

Confident that they can step in and avoid a drop-off from last year, the members of this season’s team have been preparing especially hard for the opening match.

“We all have been practicing a lot lately,” Brown said. “We want to be in the best mental and physical shape coming into this season.”

The opening matchup against Bethel provides Saint Mary’s with an opportunity to get an early taste of collegiate competition as it prepares for the O’Brien Invitational, which will be held on September 11 – 12 at the Warren Golf Course.

“Of course with it being our first tournament of the season, we have to get into the groove of playing competitively,” Brown said. “This first match is an opportunity for us all to become comfortable with competition and to prepare for the O’Brien Invitational, where we go up against the best teams in the nation.”

The match also gives Hamilton his first real opportunity to see his players compete this season.

“We’ll start to see what the girls worked on over the summer and get on track for getting the competitive juices flowing ⎯ that is really what we are working on now,” he said.

As they prepare to begin their season, the Belles remain focused on pushing the program even higher in the national standings. After finishing fourth in consecutive NCAA tournaments and having captured six of the last nine MIAA championships, Saint Mary’s has set a high standard for itself in recent years.

“We hope to keep our status as the best team in the MIAA conference and to improve our ranking in Division III,” Brown said. “We are always looking forward to Nationals in the spring, and we would like to have a good ranking so that is possible.”

The Belles begin their season Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Warren Golf Course.