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Belles look to burst onto conference scene

This weekend, all three Saint Mary’s fall sports enter their first regular-season action of the year.

Saint Mary’s Soccer

The Belles are back in action Thursday for their season opener. After going 8-9, 1-7, in the conference last year, Saint Mary’s soccer has entirely revamped. Head coach Farkhod Kurbonov, new to the Belles coaching position this season, returns a cohesive squad to the pitch accompanied by nine brand new freshmen, all of whom, he says, blend really well with the existing group.

“If you come to our practice, right now and watch us practice, I don’t think you would know who’s freshman [and] who’s not, which is great. Obviously, there’s a size difference between someone who played college for four years or three years and someone who just came out of high school so they’re getting used to the physicality part of it, and they’re getting used to the time management obviously, this being their first week of college in their life. But soccer-wise, they adjusted very, very well and that goes back to the seniors that we have that make them feel very welcome and our returning class.” 

Even new himself, Kurbonov said this team has created such a welcoming environment where they have been able to become a cohesive unit, using each grade. 

“I’m very excited by these girls and we will definitely be starting several freshmen right off the bat and from our scrimmage to our practices, they look ready, they look there, they can make a difference. So that’s one thing I’m excited about.”

Kurbonov says they have a strong commitment to each other off the field as well. Between watching movies, getting dinner or helping each other prepare for majors, the seniors brought the freshmen up to speed quickly. 

This strength off the field shores up just in time for the season opener against Concordia Chicago. The Belles opened last year against the Cougars as well, winning the match 3-0. They went on a four-game win streak after that and only lost one of their first eight. Kurbonov said the squad is looking to open the season the same way and are pushing each other to make it happen. 

“On the field, that camaraderie is there and the girls are pushing each other and actually vice versa. The freshmen have been pushing everyone and it just I don’t remember seeing anything quite like that before that the girls just coming out of high school click right away,” he said. “So again, I’m excited.” 

While the excitement and the energy are there, that doesn’t make conference play any easier. Kubonov said he’s confident in the women on the team — despite the conference being tough — and he’s making it their priority from day one. 

“Our conference, the quality of the conference, it’s very, very balanced and it’s not super top heavy which makes it tough and at the same time makes it exciting and interesting too, to compete for the playoffs,” he said. “Our objective is to compete for playoffs because it’s been a hot minute since Saint Mary’s [was] in the playoffs. We’ll try to change that. And I think that’s why it’s very important that the freshmen are going to be the ones who are going to come in here and make a difference alongside us.”

Kurbonov said the starting 11 will include freshmen although the exact lineup hasn’t been decided yet, to give the team the very best chance. 

“I’m very positive about the girls who will start on Thursday,” he said. “I’m confident in every one of them and whoever steps off the bench or starts, everyone’s excited.”

Saint Mary’s Cross Country 

The Belles’ Cross Country team opens up its season Thursday, Sept. 1 at the Manchester Hokum Karem in North Manchester, Indiana. After placing 22nd in the NCAA regional, the Belles are looking to come back stronger than ever this season. 

The event is a two-person relay race, in which team members run alternating 3Ks. Last year, duos Ava Gillis and Angela Bannan clutched 7th place while Amanda Tracy and Elizabeth Bolinger grabbed tenth. This season, both senior Bannan and junior Tracy will run without their partner. The Belles cross country also lost a number of runners such as Anne Scheck, Brigid Conmy, Riley Swope, Emily Blank and Charley Lustig. In addition, their now assistant coach Claudia Stiglitz used to run for the Belles. 

Although the Belles lost a significant number of their runners, they retained many of their scoring runners from the past NCAA Regionals. This includes Haley Greene, now a junior, who claimed a personal record at the meet with a time of 23:41.9, placing 76th overall. Tracy also recorded a personal record of 24.33.5, which awarded her 112th overall. Tracy, Greene, Senior Alexa Zeese, Sophomore Elizabeth Bernovich and senior Anna DeMars also scored in the NCAA regional last year. The Belles welcome three freshmen added to their roster as well. 

With a stacked season, the Belles hope to improve their results. After kicking it off in North Manchester, Indiana, the Belles travel to the Calvin Knight Invitational, before returning home for the Notre Dame National Catholic Invitational. While they did not move past the regionals last season, they hope to build on their repertoire as well as strengthen their team. 

Saint Mary’s Volleyball

After a disappointing 2021-22 season, the Belles’ volleyball team is back in action on Friday, Sept. 2. The Belles will open their season up on the road in Sandusky, Ohio, where they will play Bluffton in the Heidelberg Invite. Saint Mary’s will not stop there, as later that evening, they will be traveling to the Cedar Point Invite where they will play Capital, Waynesburg and Defiance all in one weekend. 

Last season, the Belles lost in the MIAA tournament to Albion on the road. Although Albion won the first set 25-11, Saint Mary’s was able to come back in the second set, before losing the third and fourth, consecutively. While their season did not end as hoped, the Saint Mary’s volleyball team did come out of the season with lots of impressive stats. Junior outside hitter Colleen McCarthy led the team with 236 kills, and senior middle hitter Molly Pooler ended the season with 159 kills. McCarthy also led the team in digs, with a total of 223, and service aces, with 16. Sophomore middle hitter Shay Theile followed closely with 14 aces.

The Belles also lost their setter Claire Hennessy, who finished the season with a total of 641 assists. This season, the Belles will rely on their returning players, as well as their six freshmen, to strengthen their team and hopefully secure a better final ranking postseason. 

While the Belles will open up against similarly ranked teams, they will also face tough competition moving further into the season. In the MIAA alone, Hope college finished their last season undefeated, while Calvin only lost one game. Although the Belles finished seventh in their conference, they did beat teams ranked above them, such as Olivet. 

With a difficult schedule ahead, the Belles must dig deep to improve upon last season’s 7-15 record.

Mannion McGinley

Contact Mannion at mmcginl3@nd.edu

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