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SMC Soccer: Experienced squad expects to improve in MIAA competition

Matt Unger | Thursday, September 1, 2011

Although the program has struggled in recent years, Belles coach Michael Joyce expects his squad to improve this year and make great strides toward competing in conference play.

In Joyce’s first year with the Belles program in 2010, the team finished 3-16, but the coach hopes those losses will lead to a growing experience in 2011.

“We return most of our starters and impact players which should help us out to a fast start,” Joyce said. “They know what it takes to win and be successful in the [MIAA] conference.”

Joyce expects big contributions from returning starter and sophomore midfielder Mollie Valencia, who was an All-MIAA selection last season. Valencia tied for second in scoring on the team with three goals and tied for first in assists with two.

“She’s a natural center midfielder and got stronger as the season went on,” Joyce said. “We’re looking for her to become one of the elite players in the league.”

Senior co-captain midfielder and forward Katelyn Tondo-Steele led the team with four goals last season, and Joyce expects her to continue her offensive role. Senior defender Michelle Marshall will serve as the other co-captain.

While on the recruiting trail, Joyce emphasized being strong at all 11 positions on the field, as he believed weaknesses at some positions cost the Belles in close games last season. He also expects contributions from freshman defender Kerry Green.

“[Green] has looked very impressive in practices so far,” Joyce said. “She’s athletic, a great tackler and can play great balls out of the back.”

The Belles start their season Friday at Defiance Classic in Ohio, where they will face host Defiance College. The following day, the team takes on Thiel College from the same location.

“We’re looking for a 2-0 start this weekend,” Joyce said. “We’d like to get in the rhythm of winning and success, so we expect it every time we play. “

Following this weekend’s Defiance Classic, Saint Mary’s returns Tuesday for their home opener against Manchester College.

Before MIAA play opens Sept. 14, the Belles will face four non-conference foes.

Once Saint Mary’s starts conference play, they will face each of its eight opponents twice in home-and-home matches. The top four teams in conference regular season play will compete for the MIAA’s automatic Division III tournament berth at the start of November.

The season begins Friday against Defiance College at 5 p.m.