Belles squads prepare to fill roles as seasons approach
Observer Sports Staff | Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Saint Mary’s will enter this season under new leadership, as Ken Nuber begins his first season as head coach of the program.
The Belles finished last season 6-11-3, including a 4-9-3 in-conference record that resulted in a seventh-place finish. Despite what their record might indicate, however, the team was competitive last year, as 12 of their 20 games were decided by one goal or fewer.
Heading into this season, MIAA preseason polls predict Saint Mary’s will finish in seventh place for a second consecutive season in conference. This is largely in part to several key losses from last year’s squad: the Belles graduated nine seniors from their team at the end of last season, including all three goalies on the roster.
Also amongst the nine seniors were defensive leaders Kerry Green and Mary Kate Hussey. Green was the second player in program history to be named to the All-MIAA first team three times, and Hussey was a captain last year and another three-time all-conference selection. The duo led a defensive effort which ranked fourth in conference play last season.
This season, however, marks the beginning of a new era for the Saint Mary’s program, as Nuber brings 19 years of coaching experience to the team. He first became a head coach at the University of Saint Francis in 1994, where he simultaneously coached the men’s and women’s teams until 1998. After that year, he continued on as the head coach of the women’s team until 2007.
Over the course of those 14 seasons, Nuber led the program to over 200 wins and the women’s team to 12 consecutive winning seasons. His success earned him the distinction of Mid-Central Conference Coach of the Year twice during that time.
Following his time at Saint Francis, Nuber spent five seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame. From 2008-2012, the Irish went 94-21-8 while he was with the team. The Irish also reached the NCAA tournament all five seasons that he was an assistant on the team, including a run that resulted in a national championship in 2010.
Prior to accepting the job with Saint Mary’s, Nuber was serving as the director of coaching with the Junior Irish Soccer Club. He will continue to hold that position while coaching the Belles.
The Belles will kick off this new era under Nuber when they play cross-town foe Bethel College at Morey Field on Sept. 2 at 7 p.m.
SMC Volleyball returns following best season since 2008
Saint Mary’s gets its volleyball season underway Tuesday with a home match against Manchester as the Belles look to continue building on their success from last season.
The Belles finished 15-13 last year, including an 8-8 record in MIAA play, to finish with a share of fourth place in the conference. The team’s 15 wins were the first time the program accomplished that feat since 2008 after going 12-15 in 2013 and were the most for a Belles team under head coach Toni Elyea.
Saint Mary’s will have to replace five seniors from last year’s squad, including middle hitter Melanie Kuczek, who played in every set for the Belles in 2014, as well as captains Taylor Etzell and Kati Schneider. Schneider, an outside hitter, appeared in 104 of the 109 sets for Saint Mary’s last year and led the team in kills with 331, while Kuczek finished second with 275.
Senior outside hitter Katie Hecklinski is the leading returner for the Belles in terms of kills, finishing 2014 with 256 kills. Sophomore middle hitter Rachel Bonek registered another 104 kills. Junior setter Clare McMillan dished out 811 assists in 2014, and junior outside hitter Meaghan Gibbons led last year’s Belles squad with 415 digs.
Saint Mary’s kicks off its season with Manchester at Angela Athletic Center and then travels to the Elmhurst Tournament the following weekend for four non-conference matches. A visit from Calvin will start off the Belles’ 2015 MIAA slate Sept. 9. Saint Mary’s will also travel to the Wheaton Tournament the first weekend of October in addition to its conference slate.
If the Belles finish in the top four after MIAA conference play, they will qualify for a berth in the conference tournament for the third straight season. That tourney is held the first weekend in November, with the conference’s automatic NAIA tournament bid up for grabs.
Manchester and Saint Mary’s get their respective seasons underway 7 p.m. Tuesday at Angela Athletic Facility.