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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

Belles find late spark, beat North Central College in season opener

The Saint Mary’s basketball team kicked off its season with a great start, defeating North Central College 68-64 Wednesday night. The Belles, who finished 6-20 last season, started off on a good note this year compared to last year's season opener loss to North Central by 11 points.

The full forty minutes of the game were full of stressful back-and-forth, but the first quarter saw the Belles dominate the court in a great start to the match. While the Cardinals scored the first few points, Saint Mary's caught up and secured a 12-8 lead thanks to a three-pointer by senior guard Maddie Rzepka by the fifth minute. Rzepka led the hosts with 17 points on the night. The Belles closed out the first quarter with a comfortable 25-14 lead, with a total of eight points made by Rzepka and another seven points from sophomore guard Jasmine Townsend, the two leading scorers of the quarter.  

North Central struggled to close the gap in the second quarter as well, keeping the Belles in the lead 42-31 at halftime. Junior forward transfer Athena Samson shined in the second quarter with eight points, bringing new talent to the team early in the season. Samson finished with nine points and ten rebounds. Saint Mary’s was able to keep the lead throughout the entirety of the third quarter, with Rzepka rounding off the 10 minutes with a jump shot, extending the lead to 53-46. 

Belles close it out late

The fourth quarter had Saint Mary’s fans on the edge of their seats toward the end. The Cardinals slowly but surely began to close the gap, finally tying the Belles 61-61 with 2 minutes and 40 seconds left in the game. The teams continued to fight for the lead, with North Central eventually gaining two points on the Belles, but Saint Mary’s made a comeback, with freshman guard Nicole Connelly sinking a layup to take a 66-64 lead. Sophomore forward Julia Schutz secured the win with two free throws at the end, closing out the game 68-64. Schutz’ free throws punctuated a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double performance.

“I think our biggest strength this season will be the way we play together,” head coach Melissa Makielski said about this year’s squad. “I am looking forward to seeing the experience we gained last season transition into success for the team. Despite the win-loss record of last year, the team continued to work together and they will see that pay off this season.”

Makielski says she looks forward to facing more competitive teams this season as well.

“We play in a very competitive conference with the defending DIII national champion, Hope College, on our schedule twice. Conference opponent, Trine University, also made a deep run in the national tournament with a Final Four appearance,” Makielski stated.

Hope and Trine both finished 15-1 in MIAA play last year. Saint Mary’s will look to improve on their 5-11 mark that left them tied for sixth in the conference.

The Belles host their next game of the season Saturday when they face the Dominican University Stars at 3 p.m.

Contact Lucia Aguzzi at