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Belles Push No. 1 Calvin to the Brink in Five-Set Nailbiter

Audrey Shannon prepares to pass the volleyball with the net in the foreground.

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The Saint Mary's volleyball team pushed No. 1 ranked and undefeated Calvin to the brink in a 3-2 (25-18, 23-25, 25-16, 23-25, 15-8) nailbiter on Wednesday evening.

After a tight start to the match, the visiting Knights built a 15-8 lead. Nicole Lukens responded with a kill, and Audrey Shannon dropped in a back-to-back aces to give life right back to the Belles. An attack error by Calvin followed by a solo block by Lukens pulled Saint Mary's within two points at 15-13 as the Knights called a timeout. The two sides continued to fight for momentum as the Belles trailed by just two points a short while later at 18-16. The Knights, however, rattled off three points in a row to take a 21-16 lead. Nola Wallace and Alyssa Chong each registered a kill late in the set, but the deficit was too large to overtake as the Knights claimed the opener 25-18.

Calvin jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second set and held at least a two-point advantage until the Belles used a 4-0 run to tie the score at 12-12. The Knights reclaimed the lead and later broke a 17-17 tie with a kill and a Saint Mary's attack error. The Belles battled their way right back into the the thick of things with a momentum-shifting 5-0 run to take a 22-19 lead. A pair of attack errors after the next point pushed the home side to set-point as the Belles went up 24-20. The top-ranked Knights put three consecutive points on the scoreboard to keep the set alive, but a Nicole Lukens kill shut the door on the comeback as the Belles claimed the 25-23 set win.

The Knights' offense barely missed a beat in the third set as Calvin registered a .500 attack percentage. The Belles, however, played toe-to-toe until late in the set. A service error by the Knights made it a 20-16 score as Saint Mary's was still well within striking distance, but Calvin closed out the set with five consecutive points for the 25-16 win.

Trailing 11-6 in the fourth set, the Belles continued to grind out points against the second-most efficient offense in Division III volleyball. Laura Keating had back-to-back kills, Alyssa Chong added a kill, and a trio of attack errors by the Knights helped the Belles draw even at 13-13. Neither side was able to build larger than a two-point lead during the remainder of the set as the lead changed hands five times down the stretch. Nicole Lukens broke a 21-21 tie with a kill only to see the Knights counter with a kill of their own to make it 22-22. Calvin then teamed up for a double block for a 23-22 lead as the Belles called a timeout. Lindsey Pelletier put down a big kill after the break, and an attack sailed long by the Knights to put Saint Mary's ahead 24-23. Lukens then closed out the stanza with her sixth kill of the set to give the Belles the 25-23 win and force a decisive fifth set.

Calvin claimed a 4-1 lead early in the fifth set, but again, the Belles came right back to tie the score at 4-4 with back-to-back kills by Pelletier followed by a block by Pelletier and Nola Wallace. Two points later, Pelletier had a big solo block to knot the score at 5-5. Wallace put down a kill in the middle of the court a short while later to make it a 7-6 score with Calvin holding the narrow lead. The Knights, however, took control of the set and the match with a big 7-0 run for a 14-6 lead. Hannah Stacy stopped the run with a kill, and Brittney Tarkanyi served up an ace to make it 14-8. The deficit was too large to overtake late in the set as Calvin put down a kill on the next point for the 15-8 win.

The last time the Belles went five sets against the Knights was October 7, 2003 at then-named Angela Athletic Facility with Calvin prevailing in the fifth set.

Nicole Lukens led the Belles with 16 kills and picked up 17 digs and a solo block. Alyssa Chong put down 13 kills, and Lindsey Pelletier added nine kills and three blocks. Audrey Shannon had a match-high 27 digs. Morgan VanderWey posted a double-double with 45 assists and 14 digs on the night. Claire Hennessy chipped in 10 digs for the Belles.

The Belles (10-12, 1-4 MIAA) travel to Earlham College on Friday to take on Mount St. Joseph and the host Quakers in a pair of non-league matches.