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SMC Volleyball: Belles prepare for Ohio tournament

Samantha Zuba | Friday, August 30, 2013

The Belles have a busy weekend ahead of them with four matches scheduled at the Ohio Northern Tournament.

Saint Mary’s will start the season with a 4 p.m. contest against host Ohio Northern. Last year the Polar Bears went 24-7 and advanced to the national tournament. Their longest losing streak was just two matches. Belles coach Toni Elyea said she sees the challenge as good preparation for conference play.

“We’re going into a very strong, competitive tournament to get us ready for our conference matches starting next Tuesday,” Elyea said. “Ohio Northern advanced to the national tournament last year, and they have good outside hitters. We want to go against top teams to get us prepared.”

Saint Mary’s will also square off against Thiel on Friday at 6 p.m. The Tomcats are another talented team, and could have surprises in store for the Belles, according to Elyea.

“Thiel was 23-8 last year, but they have a new coach, so we don’t know exactly what to expect,” Elyea said. “They do have a strong middle and good defense.”

On Saturday, Saint Mary’s will kick off day two of the tournament against Heidelberg at 10 a.m. Elyea said that Heidelberg’s talented blockers will force Saint Mary’s to focus on strong hitting.

“Heidelberg blocks really well, so we’ll have to hit really well,” Elyea said.

The Student Princes made an appearance in the NCAA tournament last year, but lost their opening round matchup with Calvin.

The final match of the weekend for the Belles will be against DePauw. Twelve members on the 16-woman roster for DePauw (0-0) are returning from last year’s team that went 25-6.

“DePauw is a strong, physical team,” Elyea said. “They’re a great defensive team with a lot of returners.”

To prepare for the tournament, Saint Mary’s has run several different offensive schemes during practice. Elyea expressed a “wait-and-see” approach.

 “We’ve been running a couple of different offenses throughout the week,” Elyea said. “I’m not sure what we’ll go with.”

Elyea did indicate, however, that the Belles would take advantage of established assets, including junior defensive specialists Samantha Grady and Meredith Mersits.

“We have a very strong defense core with returning libero Samantha Grady and Meredith Mersits,” Elyea said.

Saint Mary’s tore off to a 4-0 start last year before settling to 14-14 with a 7-9 record in the competitive MIAA conference. Two conference opponents, No. 2 Calvin and No. 5 Hope, have received national top-ten rankings in preseason polls. 

“We’re going in trying to use this time trying to get better as a team to prepare for our conference matches that’ll be coming up next week,” Elyea said.

Amidst all the challenges, Elyea said the Belles feel positive heading into the tournament.

“It’s our first tournament, so we have a lot of excitement going in,” Elyea said. “Focus isn’t really a problem. The top teams in the country are there, so we’re very much looking forward to it.”

Saint Mary’s opens the season Friday at 4 p.m. at Ohio Northern in Ada, Ohio.

Contact Samantha Zuba at [email protected]