The Belles had already turned their season around when they won three of four games between Dec. 6 and Jan. 2. Now they've turned it up a notch.
Saint Mary's is 7-10 overall but 6-4 in the MIAA and tied for third in the league with Olivet. The Belles are on the heels of another 3-of-4 streak. Before the run started, the Belles came within a missed free throw of forcing overtime against national No. 12 Calvin on Jan. 6. And Saturday, they visit last-place Tri-State (4-14 overall, 2-8 in MIAA).
Saint Mary's can take sole possession of third place in the MIAA with a win this weekend. If the Belles go on to beat Olivet next Wednesday, they could take a two-game lead for the third spot in the conference.
Sophomore guard Katie Rashid said she understands the magnitude of the upcoming games.
"It is very important to capitalize on teams during the second round of conference play in order to secure one of the top four seeds," she said.
The top four seeds receive home court advantage in the first round of the league playoffs.
The Belles are averaging 73.5 points per game over their last four games. Junior guard Alison Kessler has kept up her solid play, but she now has help. Other players, somewhat quiet in the first half of the season, have stepped up.
Freshmen center Anna Kammrath, in particular, has steadily improved all season. Over the past four games, she's averaged 11 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Erin Newsom is shooting 51 percent from field goal range and has also been a presence on the glass.
Rebounding, a weakness of Saint Mary's during the earlier part of the season, has improved as well. Belles coach Jennifer Henley continues to stress that aspect of the game in practice. The Belles will try to capitalize on Tri-state's poor offensive rebounding.
"We will attack the same way, trying to gain good position and secure every defensive rebound," Rashid said.
In Saint Mary's 83-79 win over Tri-State Jan. 2, the Belles out-rebounded the Thunder 52-41.
Tri-State has no player shooting over 40 percent from the field. They are led by freshmen guard Sarah Howe, who leads the team with 13.2 points and 7.1 boards per game.
"It is important to play great help-side defense on Sarah Howe and be in position for the rebound," Rashid said."
In the teams' previous meeting, Newsom had a double-double, dropping 20 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Kessler scored 22 points, and senior guard Bridget Lipke had 19.
Tri-State fell victim to Saint Mary's 24 second-chance points. The Thunder netted just 13 on second efforts. The Belles hope to have similar success Saturday.
"We will attack the gaps and crash the boards," Rashid said.