Belles eye continued improvement as fall seasons get underway
Saint Mary’s enters 2016 following consecutive successful years after recording their first back-to-back 15-win seasons since 1998 – 99.
The Belles’ season will begin in Atlanta next weekend at the Emory tournament, with conference play beginning for them Sept. 9 at home against Adrian.
Senior outside hitter Meaghan Gibbons, who won all-tournament selections at the Elmhurst and Millikin tournaments and was second in the team in kills last season, and junior defensive specialist McKenzie Todd, who won an MIAA player of the week selection in October last year, are the two returning players who received recognition for their play last season.
Belles head coach Denise Van De Walle said the team’s experience should be a strength in 2016.
“We have four seniors who will provide great leadership and experience,” Van De Walle said. “We should have pretty good ball control, good setting and good pin hitting. The team works hard and really embodies the word ‘student-athlete.’ They are very easy to coach and want to be good. They also have great team chemistry. I love my players.”
Van De Walle said she hopes the team can improve upon their blocking for the 2016 season.
“We really need to block better and slow down more balls,” Van De Walle said. “It was our weakest skill last year. We are working hard to improve in that area.”
In their preseason poll, MIAA coaches picked the Belles to finish tied for sixth in the conference with Trine.
Saint Mary’s opens its season this weekend with invitationals Friday and Saturday.
“I would like to use our first event of the season, the Cross Town Rivalry against Holy Cross and Bethel, to be a great momentum builder going into the season,” Belles head coach Kim Moore said. “Of course we want to play well, but ultimately, we want to use this tournament to get us in that competitive spirit again. Coming off the summer break, it is nice to have something that we can use as a kick-starter. Since my entire team will be playing in both events this weekend, it will be a really good way to get everyone, especially our new freshmen, a chance to get their competitive juices flowing again.”
The Belles return two seniors, Courtney Carlson and Ali Mahoney, to a team that won the last of three MIAA NCAA Automatic Qualifying rounds in the spring. The team’s overall score of 320 at the event marked Saint Mary’s best team score at an MIAA event in five years.
“I feel we have a really strong team this year, and we have a very legitimate chance of doing well in our conference,” Moore said. “I have a strong group of players coming back from last year’s team. I have high expectations for our two seniors this year, Ali Mahoney and Courtney Carlson, and I’m looking for even better things from our sophomore, Taylor Kehoe, now that she has an entire season under her belt. It is also good to have two of our juniors — Kaitlyn Cartone and Lydia Lorenc — back from being a semester abroad this past spring season. I am also really excited about the potential I see in our four freshmen this year — Lauren Read, Julia McAlindon, Kaitlyn Gray and Emily Besler. I think they really have what it takes to be key contributors this year.
“I’m just really excited to get the season kicked off this weekend.”
The Belles will play at the Cross Town Rivalry on Friday, which will take place at Erskine Park Golf Course in South Bend, Indiana. Saint Mary’s will close the weekend by taking on Bethel in match play at the Juday Creek Golf Course in Granger, Indiana. Both events are slated to begin at 1:00 p.m.
New head coach Jesse Urquhart will lead Saint Mary’s into the 2016 season, as he hopes to improve upon the team’s 2-15-1 record — 2-13-1 in MIAA play — last year.
With second-team all-MIAA midfielder Maggie McLaughlin and defender Lindsay Rzepecki, who led the team in goals last year, having graduated, the Belles will be looking for seniors to step up and lead the team, Urquhart said.
“Our strength this year is, without question, great leadership,” Urquhart said. “Our senior leadership — [defender] Emily Rompola, [forward] Liza Felix and [midfielder] Kate Vasile — is outstanding. It starts with our seniors, but I am also blessed to have a great group of returning players — [junior defender] Kay Thursby, [junior defender] Emily Lambert and [sophomore defender] Emily Beedie — who also exhibit all the qualities of a Belle and an incredible group of assistant coaches. Their leadership, despite their varying roles, is exceptional and, when paired with my assistants, will serve our freshman and next generation of Belles soccer players.”
The Belles open the season at home next weekend with the Belles Invite, where they will face Manchester and Milwaukee School of Engineering before the MIAA schedule begins. A three game road trip ending at 2015 NCAA quarterfinalists Calvin will be a challenging spell for Saint Mary’s before a stretch in which seven of the next eight games are at home. Urquhart said each game is important for the Belles, however.
“The girls know every match is big,” Urquhart said. “With such a young team, our two out-of-conference matches [at] home Sept. 2 – 3 will be very beneficial. The rest of our regular season is comprised of 16 conference matches, and every one of them is important.”
The Belles finished in a tie with Trine for eighth in the preseason MIAA poll.