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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Belles soccer and golf fueled by youth, recent success

With the fall season underway, the Saint Mary’s Belles soccer team and head coach Jesse Urquhart plan on picking up right where they left off last year.

While the Belles finished last season 1-7 in the conference and 6-12 overall, those six wins totaled five more than the previous season. In fact, dating back to the 2015-16 season, the Belles had only won four games total in the three seasons leading up to last year. With the team on the rise, Urquhart believes the youthfulness of his squad poses as an advantage.

“We essentially return the majority of our roster from last season, and so although we’re still a young team coming out of last season, we look at this year as a group of players that for the next couple of years will get to grow together,” Urquhart said.

The Belles will be young for the foreseeable future, too, as the team this year has just two seniors and one junior. Coach Urquhart expressed optimism for the youth on the roster.

“We didn’t graduate anyone last year, we are a very young team,” Urquhart said. “But a young team that took a lot of strides on the field and off the field.”

This season, the Belles are already off to a solid start having won both of their opening matches. In the opener, the team recorded a convincing 2-0 shutout victory over the Bluffton College Beavers. Sophomore forward Rose Stackhouse scored both goals in the contest, the second of which came off an assist from junior defender Megan Saunders.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Belles sophomore forward Rose Stackhouse looks to blow by her defender during Saint Mary's 2-1 loss to Anderson Wednesday evening.

Also of note, freshman forward Brandi Muys recorded her first collegiate point after serving up an assist to Stackhouse right before halftime. Senior goalie Thallia Robles made seven saves en route to her third career shutout performance.

In the second game of the season, Stackhouse had her second straight two-goal performance and led the Belles to a 3-2 victory over visiting Earlham. It is the first time the Saint Mary’s team has started 2-0 since the 2011 season, and the entire coaching staff expressed satisfaction with the team.

“I think it just goes to show that the plan that the coaching staff and I put in place almost three years ago during my first season came together,” Urquhart said. “It was a slow process, but we worked hard to find the right student-athletes for our college and for our program. We’re starting to see the benefits of finding the right student-athletes. I think it’s exciting, myself, the coaching staff, and our few upperclassmen that we have; they’re excited, we’re excited by the fact that this is a group that we’re going to get to work with for essentially three years. It doesn’t change what we do necessarily, it just allows us to develop a slightly more long-term plan specific to their development as a group.”

While Stackhouse has gotten off to a hot start this season, Saunders is expected to be a key contributor to their success. Urquhart noted the junior has played exceptionally well even after being moved from the center back position to midfield. 

Looking ahead this season, the Belles have a tough schedule, but Urquhart believe such tests will only enable the team to grow further.

“I feel good, I think this year one of our goals is to make the conference tournament which the program hasn’t done in a number of years,” Urquhart said. “We have some younger players that complement our roster and lineup along with some quality returners, so we definitely feel like our goal of making the conference tournament this season is attainable.”

While things are looking up for Saint Mary’s on the pitch, the Belles golf team will also look to make noise this fall. In the opening Lynn Schweizer Invitational, the Belles got off to a good start by finishing tied for third out of 12 teams. With the solid finish to open the season, and following last season’s success, head coach Kim Moore expressed eagerness to further propel her girls forward.

“Last season, we broke a lot of school and conference records; we finished the best we’ve finished since I’ve coached here at Nationals, which is a huge success for us,” Moore said. “I’m super excited about this year because we have that core coming back along with some very talented and very committed incoming freshmen. So, I’m super excited about what’s to come. Just being a young team and having some excitement, I’m hoping for some good things this year.”

The team is comprised of seven freshman, three sophomores, and two juniors. Juniors Hunter Kehoe and Summer Stillson will stand in as the leaders for a Saint Mary’s team without any senior leadership.

Moore discussed the significance of having her juniors on the team.

“Kehoe came off of last year being our conference MVP as a sophomore and also Stillson came off of last season being a First-Team All-Conference selection,” Moore said. “I definitely expect some really good things from them this year; being leaders for our team and also being leaders on the course. They put in a lot of effort over this offseason that I’ve definitely seen so far and I’m looking for some good things from them going into our conference season and also in our spring.”

For Moore, coaching is a passion she said she’s grateful to be able to do on a daily basis.

“It’s honestly a dream of mine to coach college athletics, and having the opportunity to coach at Saint Mary’s is just an opportunity that is once in a lifetime,” she said. “I’m just super excited to be here. The community that’s here at Saint Mary’s, and the passion they have for our student athletes is so awesome to have. And the support we have from not just our athletic department but everybody in our community is extremely helpful. It’s been a great seven years and I expect some great things in the future.”

The fall schedule could be challenging for any team, but especially one as young as the Belles. But Moore expects her three sophomores to step up as leaders more than they already have — they’ll help incoming freshman considering they will all be studying abroad in the spring semester, Moore said. 

“Our schedule in the fall is typically pretty competitive,” she said. “We have a lot of our conference events that we have to host and attend in the fall, so typically that season is full of conference rounds where we play a lot of our conference schools. The tournament we’re always looking forward to is our last one in the fall which is our conference championship. We are looking to hopefully do what we did last year and win the conference by 100 and some strokes, so looking to defend that title and always looking to participate. I think this first conference jamboree coming up is a big one too just to kind of get to see a lot of our conference schools that we will be seeing towards the middle and end of our season so this first one coming up is going to be an important one as well just to set the tone and to keep going where we left off. I’m looking forward to that event.”

The first MIAA Conference Jamboree will be held at the Pine River Country Club on Sept. 14. However, the Belles first have the Olivet College – Kyle Campbell Invite this Friday and Saturday at The Medalist Golf Club in Marshall, Michigan.

Overall, Moore said, playing any college sport to begin with is both commendable and incredibly helpful in terms of future career plans and jobs.

“Being a golfer here at Saint Mary’s … we’re a very competitive sport here and participating in our program can definitely help your game going forward,” Moore said. “Golf is a sport you can play for the rest of your life and being competitive in that sport can also open a lot of doors and opportunities as well, especially for female golfers. It’s definitely a great opportunity to be a part of and it’s just neat to see when our alumni have been successful.”