Belles tie program high for MIAA victories
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, May 19, 2017
Looking to sustain its recent program success heading into the 2016 season, Saint Mary’s accomplished its goal with a third straight 15-win season, marking the first such stretch since 1987-1989.
While tying the program record for conference wins, the Belles (15-14, 11-5 MIAA) also tied for their highest conference finish, trailing only Hope and Calvin — the eventual NCAA Division III champion.
However, Saint Mary’s struggled at the Emory Classic to begin the season, losing all four of its matches in Atlanta. While the Belles bounced back on the road against Manchester to grab their first win, they started MIAA play by quickly losing to Adrian at home and Calvin (33-1, 16-0) on the road, falling to 1-6 on the season. Saint Mary’s rebounded by winning six of their next seven contests, including four of five conference games, to end the first half of the season at .500 (7-7).
Although the Belles struggled again at a tough tournament by losing three of four at the Wisconsin-Oshkosh Tournament, they responded by winning seven out of their final 10 conference matches, including three straight wins against Olivet, Albion and Trine to reach 15 wins and the third-place finish, earning themselves a spot in the MIAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. Facing off against No. 2 seed Hope (25-6, 13-3), Saint Mary’s came up short in its upset bid to lose 3-1, ending the season.
After the match, senior captain Meaghan Gibbons and freshman Kaylin Szucs both earned All-MIAA recognition, with Gibbons a first team All-MIAA selection and Szucs a second team honoree. Gibbons led the Belles with a single-season career high 304 kills in 2016 while juniors Rachel Bonek (233) and McKenzie Todd (162), senior Colleen Kilgallon (156) and junior Leah Buck (146) all posted career-best kill efforts. Szucs burst on the scene with 479 digs as the team’s starting libero — the third-highest among rally scoring season marks in digs in the history of the program.
Senior setter Alexis Grady and Clare McMillan become the first classmates to each reach 1,000 career assists, with Grady posting a single-season career best 721 assists in 2016, while McMillan concluded her career in third place all time among rally scoring era setters in program history with 2,596 assists.