As the 2018 season came to an abrupt end, the Marist volleyball team returned to campus with pep in their step. This level of energy and confidence can be credited to their new coach, Sean Byron.
Marist’s athletic director, Tim Murray, announced the hire of Coach Byron in late April, and he is now well-acclimated to the Hudson Valley and Marist College. Byron and the team have been working hard during the preseason to set the pace for their 2019 season. The Red Foxes have been picked to finish fourth in the MAAC—per the conference’s coaches poll—but Byron isn’t too concerned. “I think the important poll is the one at the end of the year, not the beginning of the year,” he said.
These were a busy few months for the team. Not only were they preparing for the upcoming season, but Byron and the players were also getting acquainted with each other and working on team chemistry. Byron approaches this by building a relationship with a player that can exist on the court and off it; he’s working to understand his athletes, not merely coach them. “One of the things I’m trying to do, and I think any coach wants to do, is get to know them as people,” he said. “What are their life goals, what are their academic goals, what do they want to do.”
Byron wants to give the players ownership of what goes on in the program. He hopes to establish an open dialogue with the players, with collaborative efforts on how to improve the team. He points out the seniors in particular, mentioning that they “have been great in terms of the buy-in to the overall program.”
With extensive experience in coaching volleyball, Byron’s methods to create a communal relationship have been successful thus far. When asked about leadership roles on the team, he shared his approach to selecting captains. “We came up with four or five categories of a captain, and these are things we are looking for in a captain. Then we asked [the players] to vote, and then we took the top five and said ‘hey let’s vote among these top five and come up with some duties for captains.’”
A 25-year career in the sport had brought Byron to two Sweet Sixteen appearances at Michigan. Now at Marist, he aims to influence the players on and off the court. “Being an athlete takes a lot of time,” he said. “The ability to ‘fill up their bucket’ is limited because athletics takes up so much time.”
Even with the large commitment of playing at a Division I level, the Marist volleyball team still brings the heat in the classroom. This past year, the team was honored by being the recipients of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Team Academic Award for the 2018-2019 academic year. This award is given to a team with a cumulative team grade point average (GPA) of 3.30 or higher on a 4.0 GPA scale. This marks the 13th consecutive year that the team has held this award, tied for the sixth longest streak in Division I volleyball history. Prestigious awards like these make Byron’s recruitment process that much easier.
“The college is great. Academically it’s great. From a coaching and recruiting perspective, it’s an easy sell,” said Byron. “When people see the campus and meet the people involved with the program, and if you can create a competitive culture, then it’s an easy sell.”
The team welcomed four new faces to the team this year—Halle Carter, Gabby Murray, Sophia Theriot, and Victoria Perini—in an effort to push Marist that extra inch and ultimately win the MAAC. McKinley Fox, a sophomore setter from California, is confident that this year’s team is strong, even with all the new changes that went on over the course of the past few months. Her motto for the season? “We’re going to take it one game at a time.”
With the season underway, the team is going full speed ahead in hopes of capturing a MAAC championship. 12 out of 14 players from last season are returning, including powerhouse seniors Megan Fergus, Nikki DeSerpa, and Stephanie Stone. While all three are on track to setting program records, DeSerpa was recently named to the preseason All-MAAC Team, as she led her team in points (405.5), kills (360), and came in second in digs (292) last year.
The Red Foxes will open MAAC play on Friday, September 20th at 7 p.m. in the McCann Arena. But they’re in no rush, it’s all about taking it one game at a time.