Belles enter crucial weekend in conference play
Josh Dulany | Wednesday, October 1, 2014
The Belles open the second half of their conference season with a pivotal weekend as they jockey for a top-four spot in the MIAA.
On Friday, Saint Mary’s (7-7, 4-4 MIAA) plays Alma (9-12, 4-4). The Belles and Scots are tied for fourth place in the MIAA.
At the end of the year, the conference’s top four teams make the MIAA tournament, and Friday night’s winner will move into that fourth spot. Belles coach Toni Elyea said the team realizes the significance of the match, but knows that they have to take it one point at a time. She said the Belles’ main focus is to execute better than when they lost their previous meeting with the Scots, 3-1, on Sept. 2.
“When we went to Alma, we didn’t execute as well as we needed to,” Elyea said. “Alma has great hitters and a well-balanced offense. They also are not afraid to change things up in the course of a match, so we have to be alert and consistent. We need to just play our game and execute, and we should put ourselves in a great position.”
The Belles come into the weekend having won four of their last five matches, and Elyea said she is generally pleased with the team’s opening month of play.
“This is definitely an improved team from where we began the year,” Elyea said. “We’ve made major strides forward and been pretty solid all around. Offensively, we want to make some bigger strides, but we’ve been progressing great in practice and are excited to see continued improvement show up in the matches.”
Alma is led by the play of junior outside hitter Hanna Guilford, who has 233 kills on the year, and sophomore setter Mary Dulzo, who leads the Scots with 655 assists. Elyea said she is excited to see how senior outside hitter Kati Schneider and sophomore setter Clare McMillan match up with Alma’s duo. Schneider leads the Belles with 164 kills and had 11 when these teams last played. McMillan leads the team with 363 assists and is averaging 6.72 assists per set.
After playing Alma, the Belles hit the road Saturday to take on the conference’s last-place team, Olivet.
Elyea said the Belles will have to maintain sharp focus when they visit Olivet (5-12, 1-7). Senior right-side hitter Stefanie Lang has led the Comets offensively with 263 kills on the season. Elyea said the Belles are also aware that senior middle hitter Emma Brann has returned from injury since these two teams last met and could give Olivet a different look.
“Olivet is an extremely competitive team,” Elyea said. “We can’t lose focus at all. Every team in our conference is strong, and they have solid hitting and some key players back from injury. They are going to look a little different [and] a little more balanced than when we played before, and we just have to be prepared to play our best.”
Saint Mary’s defeated Olivet in four sets on Sept. 5.
Both of the weekend matches are important MIAA contests, but Friday’s will be part of a special event with significance beyond the volleyball standings. The Belles are heading a group of campus organizations hosting a night to raise awareness of domestic violence. The event will raise money for national and local organizations supporting victims of domestic violence.
“This is a huge opportunity to raise awareness and money on the issue of domestic violence and for the YWCA [Young Women’s Christian Association] nationally and here in South Bend,” Elyea said. “We are excited to head up such a collaborative event to help people become more aware of such an important issue. It’s an exciting night because it goes so far beyond the people on this team and the way that several organizations and members of the university have come together has been awesome to see. All the girls have really bought in, and it should be a fun night of volleyball that means a lot to a lot of people.”
The Friday night game will be a purple-out at the Angela Athletic Facility at 6 p.m. The Belles follow up this match Saturday at noon when they visit Olivet in Olivet, Michigan.