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Belles lose five-set heartbreaker to Kalamazoo

The Saint Mary’s Belles hosted their second home game of the season this week, facing the Kalamazoo Hornets in a tough match on Tuesday evening. Prior to the start of the game, the ladies on both teams put green ribbons in their hair and laces in support of Mental Health Awareness on college campuses. 

The first set saw Kalamazoo get an early lead with an aggressive offense, racking up 11 points in the first few minutes to the Belle’s four. The set continued with a stressful back-and-forth, with Saint Mary’s gaining possession of the ball but being unable to keep it for more than one or two serves. Faults on the Hornets’ offense, however, opened the window for SMC to close the gap with a few kills from junior outside hitter Colleen McCarthy and bring the score to 17-15 Kalamazoo. The Belles were unable to keep up the scoring streak and lost the first set 25-21. 

Saint Mary’s turned the tables on the Hornets during the second set of the match though, scoring the first few points and quickly getting into a steady lead after Kalamazoo scored on them. The Belles kept that lead for the majority of the game, with two scoring streaks in the set while freshman hitter Mia Shields served the ball. They were able to create a large gap in points, leading by eight at multiple times in the set. The set ended 15-25 for an SMC win. 

The third set gave the Belles their second set win of the night, with another 13-21 lead against the Hornets. Sophomore outside hitter Cali Allen scored five points for the team with kills in the third set, assisted by Shields (two kills)  and McCarthy (three kills). Saint Mary’s was able to pass Kalamazoo’s early lead with sophomore middle hitter Shay Theile serving a five-point streak. Theile just got back on the court after a 2 week leave due to a concussion. SMC won the third set 19-25. 

The fourth set brought on a stressful energy for both teams, keeping them on their toes and never allowing for more than a three-point lead for either of them. The Hornets emerged victorious after a 29-27 win. The fifth set brought on a similar play, with the beginning a close match, eventually leading to a Kalamazoo win 15-10. 

“It’s what we do in the matches that’s hurting us,” said Head Coach Denise Van De Walle after the game. “Our practice and skill level is pretty solid, but right now I think being as young as we are we don’t have the experience in how to close out a match.”

The current team is made up of 8 underclassmen, 6 being freshmen. Van De Walle added, “Our first years are very good, they just don’t have experience at the college level, and it’s different than high school and club. Even coming from a high-level club, this is still way different because the players they’re playing against could be anywhere from 18 to 23.”

For Van De Walle, the team’s weakness is in their experience and newness to the team. “Their team chemistry is outstanding. They really love each other, they’re a close-knit team, which should translate into being able to hold each other accountable… [but] they don’t, they’re still afraid to say the wrong thing.” 

The Belles have had multiple losses in the 4th and 5th sets recently, and Van De Walle says that in those moments she reminds the team that  “We’re playing for the match, not just the set. Play hard, play swing, don’t play safe…they don’t have that confidence yet and it’s because I’m playing a lot of young, or new, people. They’re all talented, but they don’t have the experience to know how to close out a win. We don’t know how to finish yet.” 

As for today’s loss, she’s disappointed by the result. “In my opinion, looking at them, they were scared. Instead of playing to win, they were thinking ‘Oh my gosh, we might lose’, so they played safe. We needed to be ultra-competitive during that, and we played safe, and lost.” 

At the end, she adds, “Our future is good, but what we’ve gotta do right now is just continue to play and not lose confidence, and that’s hard to do when you’re getting beat… the more you lose, it’s hard to rebound until you get that win. You have to taste a win somewhere along the line.” 

The Belles host their next game at home against Calvin this Saturday, September 24th. 

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