Belles cross country takes sixth at MIAA Championship

Saint Mary’s cross country began their postseason on Saturday morning as they made the trek to Shepherd, Michigan for the MIAA Conference Championship. The Belles came ready to compete, as each of Saint Mary’s top ten runners posted personal best times in what was easily the team’s best performance of the season to date. The effort was enough to earn sixth place among a field that featured several nationally-ranked teams at the Division III level.

The Belles went into Saturday’s race with a strong sense of familiarity regarding their opponents, having faced many of them throughout the regular season. All nine MIAA teams raced at the DIII Preview Meet earlier in the October, and Saint Mary’s battled several conference foes at its most recent meet, the Oberlin Inter-Regional Rumble.

With a conference title on the line, the Belles relied on a veteran-heavy lineup to guide the team, as each of their five scoring positions were comprised of upperclassmen. Junior Haley Greene led the way for the Belles, finishing in 36th place with a time of 23:36 in the 6k race. Amanda Tracy, also a junior, was just behind, taking 38th place in 23:40.2.

Needing three more strong performances to complete the team’s scoring, a trio of seniors, racing in their final MIAA Championship, answered the call. Angela Bannan finished in 52nd place with a time of 24:13.5. Soon after, Anna DeMars established a huge new personal record, topping her previous best by more than 45 seconds, finishing in 24:45.5. DeMars claimed 65th place for the Belles. Alexa Zeese was the fifth Saint Mary’s finisher, and her time of 24:49.3 earned 67th place. The race highlighted the Belles’ impressive depth, as several more Saint Mary’s runners finished near the team’s top five. Sophomore Susanna Bernovich, freshman Isabelle Auch, and freshman Carly Davis were close behind Zeese while finishing in 69th, 71st, and 73rd, respectively.

No. 24 Hope ultimately won the MIAA Championship with a score of 39 points. No. 20 Calvin and No. 35 Trine were hot on their heels with 50 and 52, and these teams established themselves as the clear class of the conference. Saint Mary’s finished in sixth place with 172 points. The Belles’ performance was a true team effort; each of the five teams that placed ahead of them had a runner in the top eight, while Saint Mary’s top finisher came in 36th. The Belles’ ability to remain competitive with these teams showed the strength of their team from top to bottom.

Following breakout performances from most of its roster, Saint Mary’s will look to carry its momentum into the final stages of the season. Next up for the Belles is the NCAA Great Lakes Regional on Nov. 12 in Holland, Michigan. The regional meet will feature every MIAA team as well as a host of other programs from around the Midwest, and the Belles will be aiming to improve upon last year’s 22nd-place finish. After Saturday’s race, it appears that Saint Mary’s is peaking at the right time and is well-prepared to continue its postseason push.

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Young Belles squad looks to make mark in MIAA

Saint Mary’s College soccer begins its conference play Wednesday at 4 p.m. against Trine. The team will play eight regular-season conference games, and up to three Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) tournament games, should it qualify. The season got off to a rocky start, as the Belles went 0-5-3 in non-conference play. Head coach Farkhod Kurbonov describes one major source of the team’s struggles so far.

“We’re young, and our preseason is so short at the Division III level, that it took us some time to get used to each other and understand our roles on the team,” Kurbonov said.

With nine freshmen, three transfers and Kurbonov brand new to the program himself, the team is in the process of rebuilding. Kurbonov, who previously coached at the club, junior college, NAIA and DII levels, is tasked in his first season with laying a strong foundation to build upon in the future. Kurbonov describes his young team as excited and ambitious, saying, “I believe in the future it’s a very exciting team, but for right now we’re young and hungry.” 

After a slow start this season, the Belles are viewing the beginning of MIAA play as the start of a whole new season. Non-conference play has given the players the opportunity to get on the same page, adjust to the team culture, and for the nine freshmen, get used to the pace and intensity of college soccer. Kurbonov spoke on the progress the team has made in this area.

“Something I think we’re good at is discipline as a team and the organizational part of it… my players are starting to respond the way I would like them to respond,” Kurbonov said.  

This season, Kurbonov and the Belles are looking to improve upon last season’s performance, when the team went 1-7 and missed the playoffs. Kurbonov said this year the team’s goal is to make the playoffs and build from there.

“Long term is complete for the title and make nationals and so on, but for this season, we want to start making small steps, having a strong conference season and making the playoffs,” Kurbonov said.

The current freshmen will be very important to both the Belles’ short-term and long-term goals. The team’s success in conference play this year will largely depend upon whether or not the freshmen, especially those in the starting lineup, can quickly adjust to the demands of college athletics. In the future, they will be responsible for building a new team culture under Coach Kurbonov. With some experience under their belts, the freshmen and the team as a whole are now ready to take on the second half of their schedule. They hope that non-conference play prepared the team to play up to their potential in the games where it really counts.

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