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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

SMC Volleyball: Belles host Manchester in nonconference match

After a tough weekend against two nationally-ranked conference opponents, the Belles look to bounce back against Manchester on Tuesday and earn their second home win of the season.

Belles coach Toni Elyea said the challenging matches against No. 1 Calvin and No. 2 Hope exposed the areas that Saint Mary's (5-8, 3-4 MIAA) needs to improve.

"Coming off of a very tough week, we are very aware of what we need to get better at individually and as a team," Elyea said. "Playing the No. 1 and [No.] 2 team in the country, you are able to see exactly where you need to make improvements."

Calvin (14-0, 6-0 MIAA) and Hope (14-1, 5-1 MIAA) tested the Belles' defense with high-powered offenses, and Manchester (3-9, 0-0 Heartland) won't give Saint Mary's much of a break. The Spartans have crushed 9.79 kills per set so far this season.

"Manchester is a team that continues to get stronger every year," Elyea said. "They have two solid outside hitters that we will need to be focused on."

A pair of young outside hitters power Manchester up front. Freshman outside hitter Sarah Pruden comfortably leads the Spartans with 343 kills, followed by freshman outside hitter Kelsie Thomas with 193. Freshman middle hitter Morgan Pavelka balances the center of Manchester's offense with 172 kills and 70 blocks.

Freshmen dominate the Spartans' defensive statistics as well. Freshman defensive specialist Meika Kennedy has snagged a team-leading 347 digs this season, and Pruden has 264, making her both an offensive and defensive threat. Sophomore defensive specialist Morgan Yoder rounds out the top three for Manchester with 200 digs. The entire Spartans defense has been active this season on its way to an average of 14.54 digs per set.

For the Belles, junior outside hitter Kati Schneider (196), sophomore outside hitter Katie Hecklinski (116) and junior middle hitter Melanie Kuczek (113) have recorded triple-digit kills.

Opponents have outblocked Saint Mary's 114.5 to 61, and Elyea said the Belles will focus on improving their blocking presence and efficiency on offense against the Spartans.

"We are focused on continuing to play great defensively, block well and play our best," Elyea said. "We will need to get a little more consistency out of our offense in order to produce wins."

Saint Mary's takes the court at home against Manchester on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Contact Samantha Zuba at