Saint Mary’s has best season in program history
Darcy Dehais | Friday, May 19, 2017
Saint Mary’s ended the season in second place in the MIAA conference, its best finish in the program’s four year history, only to have the season come to an early end with a loss to Hope in the first game of the MIAA tournament.
The Belles (10-7, 7-1 MIAA) began the season with a tough schedule early on, recording a 19-9 loss to Smith, an 18-13 loss against Wooster and a 19-9 loss against Western Connecticut State during their first three games over spring break.
Belles head coach Amy Long said the difficult matchups against nonconference opponents were key to the team learning its strengths and coming in prepared for the rest of the season’s games.
“In those three games on that spring break trip, we definitely played teams that were at a much higher level than us,” Long said. “We learned that we can rise to a higher level. Playing those quicker teams with very established programs and very strong skills across the board on their team, we were able to prove to our girls that we can hang. We rise to the occasion when we play somebody a little bit stronger than where we’re at.”
Although the nonconference schedule was formative in preparing the Belles to play at a high level, Long said the majority of the team’s focus was on the eight MIAA games played during the season.
“Our energy and intensity level rises because we know that this is one of those eight games that we’ve worked so hard in all of our practices and in all of our nonconference games to prepare for this moment,” Long said. “They were able to rise to that challenge and work together to apply everything that we had learned from all those non-conference games prior.”
The Belles won seven of their eight regular season MIAA games this season, falling short only in the game against Calvin on April 11. However, Saint Mary’s lost in the opening round of the MIAA tournament 12-11 against Hope on May 3, a team it had beaten 13-11 in the regular season.
Long said both games were competitive, citing the Belles’ turnovers in the tournament loss.
“There wasn’t a lot of difference — I feel like both games were really close,” Long said. “Hope definitely brought more knowing that it was the tournament. We went in very confident in ourselves, and I think we expected to win. We didn’t go in big-headed or anything, but there was utter shock that we lost. All the stats were very even, but it just ended up that we were ones down when the game ended.”
In the program’s four-year history, the Belles have finished eighth, seventh, fourth and second in the MIAA each season, respectively. Seniors attack Lauren Telford, defender Katlynn Dee, attack Emilie Vanneste and goalkeeper Shannon Weyer are the first class to be a part of the program for four years. Long said that the seniors provided critical leadership and experience.
“Those four were here from day one, so they’ve definitely built this program from the ground up,” Long said. “They’ve worked so hard and diligently to create and sustain a positive team culture. Without their determination over the past four years, our program wouldn’t be where it is today.”
Although the team will lose talent in their seniors, Long said a strong group of freshmen are set to take their place. The Belles are setting their sights even higher next season with hopes to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“The biggest goal for our team next year is to win conference and win the conference tournament,” Long said. “Our goal was just to finish in the top four this year, so the fact that we finished second means that as a team we are coming to the realization of what we can achieve.”