Belles Clinch Tournament Berth With Five-Set Win Over Bulldogs
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The Saint Mary's volleyball team secured fourth place in the MIAA for the first time since 2008 and earned a spot in next weekend's top-four only conference tournament with a 3-2 (25-11, 25-22, 23-25, 22-25, 15-9) win over Adrian on Friday night.
The Belles stormed out in the first set ready to punch their ticket to the conference tournament by hitting .448 in the first stanza with 15 kills and two errors on only 29 attempts. Saint Mary's held the visiting Bulldogs to a -.125 hitting percentage as Adrian had five kills and nine errors on 32 attempts in that same set. The Belles broke a 7-7 tie with a six-point run and pulled well out of reach with another six-point spurt to take control at 19-8.
The momentum from the first-set victory spilled over into the second set for the Belles as Saint Mary's staked claim to a 7-0 lead to force the Bulldogs into an early timeout. Adrian did not go down without a fight, which was a theme that carried throughout the entire match. The Bulldogs pulled within three points at 10-7, 20-17, 22-19, and 24-22, but the Belles put the set away with a kill by Kati Schneider.
Saint Mary's had the sweep clearly in their sight as the Belles again took an early lead and extended their advantage to 19-12. At that point, however, the shift in momentum was nearly palpable as the Bulldogs went on a seven-point run to tie the set at 19-19. After Saint Mary's won the next two points on kills by Melanie Kuczek and Schneider, the teams traded points back-and-forth to see the Belles go up 23-21. The Bulldogs came up with a pair of big blocks along with a kill and a Saint Mary's attack error as Adrian scored four unanswered points for the 25-23 third-set win.
The fourth set proved to be the most closely played set of the night as the score was tied six times and the lead changed possession on three occasions. The Belles were able to take the biggest lead of the set at 15-7 by winning nine of ten points in what was a 6-6 tie. Adrian responded a few points later with a six-point outburst to knot the score at 16-16. With neither team establishing more than a two-point lead, the set moved to its sixth and final tie at 20-20. Three quick points by Adrian proved to be too much to overcome as the Bulldogs evened the match at two sets apiece with the 25-22 win.
Determined to secure their first top-four conference finish in head coach Toni Elyea's tenure, Saint Mary's broke a 4-4 tie in the fifth set with a Schneider kill, an Adrian attack error, a Bulldog ball handling error, and a Katie Hecklinski kill. Adrian edged within three points of the Saint Mary's lead at 8-5 and 9-6. The Belles, however, pulled away for good with a three-point push to claim a 14-7 lead before clinching the win with a 15-9 decision in the fifth set.
Kati Schneider led all players with 24 kills while adding 11 digs for her 17th double-double on the season. Katie Hecklinski added a 19 kill, 17 dig effort to register her 15th double-double of the year. Meredith Mersits had a match-high 27 digs, and Samantha Grady tallied 13 digs for the Belles. Clare McMillan led all players with 53 assists. Melanie Kuczek continued her stretch of strong blocking with six blocks for the Belles while chipping in eight kills.
The fourth-seeded Belles (12-14, 8-8 MIAA) travel to MIAA tournament host and top-seeded Calvin on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. match against the Knights. Second-seeded Hope takes on third-seeded Trine in the first match of the day at 5:30 at Van Noord Arena.