Belles fall to Hope in finale
Brett O'Connell | Monday, November 3, 2014
The Saint Mary’s volleyball team ended its season with a 3-0 conference loss to No. 2 Hope on Friday.
The Belles (15-13, 8-8 MIAA) stayed competitive with the Flying Dutch (27-1, 15-1) in the early stages of the first set. They traded points early and established a 4-4 tie, before the Dutch won eight of the next nine points to take a commanding 12-5 lead. Hope did not relinquish that lead for the remainder of the set, claiming a 25-15 win in the first frame.
The Belles’ performance in the middle set proved far more contentious. They opened the frame with a spirited run in which they scored five of six points to claim their first of six leads. In total, the Belles held six leads in the second set. In what proved to be a battle of attrition, the Flying Dutch finally prevailed, 25-22, in the second set.
Hope carried the momentum from that win into the third set, which it opened with an eight-point run. The Flying Dutch ultimately clinched the match, 25-7.
The loss to nationally-ranked Hope gave the Belles a final conference record of 8-8 and a share of fourth place in the MIAA. The Belles and Alma (15-17, 8-8) share fourth place, both with 8-8 league records.
However, the Scots held the tiebreaker advantage with two wins on Sept. 2 and Oct. 3 in the Belles-Scots season series, granting them access to the final playoff seed.
Belles coach Toni Elyea led the Belles to 15 regular season wins in her sixth year with the program — the best single-season record that the team has claimed since her arrival. She said she is confident the trend would be an ongoing one.
“Every year we keep bringing in talented players,” Elyea said. “It’s been a huge improvement over the last few years. We also have people that are staying in the program for all four years and improving every single year, and that’s also a reason that is reflected in the wins column for us.”
Elyea also said she was satisfied with the level of competition in the MIAA.
“When you compete, you want to compete against the best,” Elyea said. “We love that we have the number one and two team in the conference. One through three are all ranked — it lets us know where we are and that we’re capable of winning. We just need to play consistently and play well to get that win. It has pushed us every year to get better.”
Before worrying about next year’s competition, though, the Belles will have to turn inward to search for new leadership. Senior co-captains Kati Schneider and Taylor Etzell will both graduate this spring, leaving a void in the team’s leadership.
“Some will rise [to leadership] naturally,” Elyea said. “But others will take a lot of work. There are a lot of factors when it comes to leadership. They have to want that for themselves — I think they do, and I see great things for the next group of leaders on our team.”
Despite the big shoes to fill, Elyea said she had high hopes for the coming season and beyond.
“We are very capable of competing at an extremely high level,” Elyea said. “Everyone will continue to get better, and I expect nothing less from our team as well.”