A successful season came to a close for No. 5 Saint Mary's after a semifinal loss to No. 1 Albion, ending its run at an MIAA championship.
The Belles' (13-8, 5-3 MIAA) weekend began with a quarterfinal matchup against No. 4 Calvin. In their regular season meeting, Saint Mary's outlasted the Knights (10-11, 5-3) for a 5-4 victory. The Belles were forced to play strong tennis throughout the contest, from two early doubles wins to the late 6-2, 7-5 win by senior Mary Therese Lee that decided the match.
Friday's match was much of the same, as strong doubles play set the Belles up for another 5-4 triumph. This time the early boost was provided by an 8-3 win from the No. 3 doubles team of Lee and senior captain Franca Peluso. The pair went undefeated in tournament play and has been one of Saint Mary's best pairings all year.
"[Peluso and Lee] have great chemistry and they really enjoy playing together," Belles coach Dale Campbell said. "Franca got hurt early in the year, but since then they've only kept improving."
The Belles received late heroics in this meeting as well, this time from senior Kate Grabarek at No. 5 singles. Grabarek, with the season on the line, rallied from a one set deficit to win 1-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2. Even when her opponent stood two points from defeating both her and the team, the senior maintained her composure and continued to play her game.
"I was really proud of Kate," Campbell said. "That was a huge match for us. Her opponent didn't make a mistake in that first set, but she started to play better and she really came up big."
After that victory over Calvin, only top-seeded Albion (14-2, 8-0) stood between Saint Mary's and the finals. However, the Belles' hopes faded as the Britons quickly took a 2-1 lead in doubles and swept the top three spots in singles for a 5-2 victory.
While the result was decisive, Campbell believes the match was much closer than the score indicated.
"We were very close. It was much tighter than 5-2," he said. "We were about to win the other two matches out there, so it was more like 5-4. You find yourself thinking, ‘we just needed one more'."
Despite the season ending too early for their liking, the 2011 campaign was the best the Belles have had under Campbell and marks another step in the right direction for a team that has improved its record for the past three years. Campbell believes the future for Saint Mary's is bright and sees many positives from the successful year.
"We're disappointed, but we're glad we made it to the semifinals and [went] up against the best," he said. "I do feel that we're learning more every season, and this one was the best so far. We had a great group of seniors this year, and it was good to send them out on a positive. We're trying to improve as a program, and we feel like we're definitely on an upswing."