Upset-minded Belles set to take on No. 1 Calvin
Josh Dulany | Monday, September 15, 2014
Still looking to get rolling in this young season, Saint Mary’s faces a tough test Tuesday night. Calvin, the No. 1 team in the country and the reigning NCAA Div. III champions, comes to town looking to remain atop the MIAA.
The Belles (3-5, 2-2 MIAA) have split their first four conference games and find themselves tied for fifth place, while Calvin (11-2, 3-0) is the conference’s co-leader.
However, the Knights dropped two games over the weekend to No. 9 Wittenberg and No. 10 Washington-St. Louis. Those two losses are more than they had all of last year on their way to a national title. Belles head coach Toni Elyea said she was impressed with Calvin but also was quick to point out that they are not invincible.
“Calvin is a great volleyball team,” Elyea said. “Still, we saw over the weekend that they can be beat. They’ve been on a great run, but they are going through some personnel changes and it will be interesting to see how we can play with them.”
Elyea said the Belles’ efforts will largely be focused on shutting down the Knights’ prolific hitting attack.
“They have an extremely efficient team, especially on offense,” Elyea said. “They don’t miss much. At the same time, we are really excited to see how our blocking holds up. It has been a real strength for us so far, and we hope we can carry that over into this game. I think if we stay solid defensively and serve aggressively, we will give ourselves a chance.”
Elyea said several players’ efforts have been noteworthy over the course of this season. Defensively, she said the team is looking to the experience of senior Kati Schneider and junior Katie Hecklinski, while the efforts of freshmen Leah Buck and Rachel Bonek have also been crucial to the team’s success, as they have integrated well into the team’s style of play. Elyea also said senior Melanie Kuczek has been especially important.
“Melanie has been extremely strong for us,” Elyea said. “The team is growing as a unit, but Melanie has been a real force for us on the court and hopefully can be a real threat for us against Calvin. Her skill and experience are both huge for the team.”
Kuczek’s presence in the middle has manifested itself on the stat sheet as well. She is third on the team with 60 kills and leads the team with 22 blocks through just eight games.
Saint Mary’s is also at a significant historical disadvantage to Calvin. Since the end of the 2009, the Knights have won 27 straight sets against the Belles. Saint Mary’s has not triumphed over the Knights since 2005.
The Belles and Knights face off Tuesday night at 7 p.m. The Knights are looking to bounce back from a rough weekend as Saint Mary’s goes for a season-defining victory.