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Saturday, June 15, 2024
The Observer

Belles tennis dominates on Senior Day, prepares for tough postseason battle

Concluding the best regular season in program history, Saint Mary’s tennis thrashed Earlham College 8-1 on Senior Day at Angela Fieldhouse. The Belles polished off a 17-2 campaign, which included a 12-0 non-conference record. It was their first unbeaten mark in non-conference play in program history. Additionally, their previous highest win total in a season was 14 matches. The Belles finished 5-2 in MIAA play, good for third place in the conference. They'll take on Hope for a third straight postseason in the conference semifinals Wednesday. 

Earlham entered Saturday’s clash at a serious disadvantage, bringing only four players to the match. That meant they forfeited the third doubles court, as well as the fifth and sixth singles courts. As such, the Belles entered doubles with a 3-0 lead and a chance immediately clinch the match result. They trotted out four seniors to get the job done, and Saint Mary’s upperclassmen leaders responded. Annika Smith and Kathleen McCleod swept through their opposition at the second court, winning 8-0. At the top doubles court, Lucy Chamberlin and Kalyn Borger encountered some stiffer competition but prevailed in an 8-4 final. That gave the Belles a 5-0 lead and secured the Senior Day victory. 

In singles, sophomore Alayna Campbell, freshman Emma Kealy and senior McCleod cruised at the second, third and fourth courts. Across those three matches, no Belle dropped a set, each winning by a scoreline of 6-0, 6-0. Despite Chamberlin faltering on the top court, Saint Mary's claimed an easy 8-1 victory. 

Belles eye up MIAA giant in playoffs

Now, the Belles move forward to a much stiffer challenge in the MIAA Tournament. The Belles’ two losses all season came to Kalamazoo and Hope, the two teams ahead of them in the conference standings. In all likelihood, Saint Mary’s will need to beat both in order to win MIAA Tournament and advance to to the national tournament. That tough road starts with a semifinal versus Hope, whom the Belles dropped a 7-2 decision to March 31. It’s a somewhat unwelcome semifinal, as Hope has been the highest ranked team in the conference but was upset by Kalamazoo to drop to the No. 2 seed. Outside of that loss, Hope won five of their other six conference matchups by 8-1 or 9-0 scorelines, with only the Belles nabbing two points. 

To win Wednesday’s semifinal, the Belles will need to lean on their depth. In their regular season clash with Hope, Saint Mary’s won at No. 4 and No. 6 singles, with the third and fifth courts putting up the stiffest resistance in their losses. In doubles, the Belles were more competitive on the second and third courts, despite absorbing defeats in both contests.

This group of Saint Mary’s seniors have seen both their previous postseason campaigns end in 5-0 losses to Hope, and the Belles hope to reverse the trend. The team has never won an MIAA postseason match, and they’ll face a gargantuan task on Wednesday in their efforts to notch that program-defining victory. They’ll take on Hope at 4 p.m.