Marist women’s volleyball waited around for weeks wondering if they could actually continue their season. Following its cancellation, they are left to wonder what the future holds.
It was March 17, 2021. Marist spring sports teams were just getting their seasons started. All athletes and coaches were ready to make a triumphant return to their sport following a full year removed from action.
What happened next, no one saw coming. Marist College enacted a campus-wide pause. This pause not only suspended all in-person classes but also halted all spring sports in play. Over the course of the next three weeks, the college would send out five total emails to the school community extending the campus pause.
The pause was officially lifted April 12, with classes resuming in person that date. “Low-risk” sports were not cleared until four days later, but by that time, it was too late for the majority of the college’s teams to continue their season. This included the women’s volleyball team.
To understand how this all went down, we need to take a step back.
Three days before the pause was enacted, the Marist Women’s Volleyball team was ready to take on the Rider Broncs, a MAAC Conference foe. The doubleheader was set to take place in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. It was the Red Foxes’ third and fourth matches of the season, only their second doubleheader of the season. They went 0-2 the previous weekend against the Iona Gaels and were looking to bounce back.
“In the first matchup of the season against Iona, we only played after five days of practice,” head coach Sean Byron said. “I was proud of them, they all played competitively. We had to run them out in separate groups just to not overtax the girls. I felt they were prepared as could be, they did a really good job coming back [from winter break] in shape.”
The Red Foxes proceeded to lose the first match against the Broncs, where they were up 2-1 in sets at one point, but then fell victim in the following two sets by scores of 25-12 and 15-13. The second match was a little different, and the Red Foxes began to hit their stride. It only took four sets to put up their first victory of the season in what was a close match.
Following that first victory, the pause hit. The players were no strangers to online workouts, though. They had grown accustomed to it when they knew there would be no fall season.
“Coach sent us a lot of hit workouts we did in the fall when we weren’t playing,” junior setter McKinley Fox said. “Since we couldn’t practice and be together, I think he did a good job of keeping us together and in shape. He also encouraged people to go outside since the weather got nicer. When we thought the season would continue, we wanted to be prepared for the next game.”
The team thought there was a chance the season could continue following the first announcement from the school, but as the pause continued to get extended, that chance belittled more and more each day, then the news officially came in. With only four games under their belt, the Red Foxes were not allowed to participate in another game or the MAAC tournament due to the near month-long pause, ending their season.
“It was a fresh mixture of frustration and sadness,” Fox said. “We were on WebEx when coach broke the news, and the seniors started crying immediately. It was something you just don’t want to see happen.”
“It was really hard to see them crying,” junior middle blocker Skylar Harrison said, continuing on Fox’s point. “But when we first got put on pause, the cancellation of the season wasn’t as sudden. When it kept getting extended, we kind of had that feeling that our season was probably going to get canceled. It’s not like we didn’t see it coming.”
If they were able to compete in the tournament, Marist would have been the seven seed and would have had a play in game against the eighth seeded Siena Saints. Alas, they were not allowed. The Broncs ended up winning the conference tournament and went on to play the UCLA Bruins in the NCAA tournament, where they were swept 3-0.
“After Iona’s match, we went another five days of practice and then split with the eventual MAAC champion, Rider,” Bryon said. “The pandemic has a lot of situations where you’re not in control of certain things. Our kids were great about what they could control; their own fitness level and their own ability to prepare as best they could.”
“1-3 is not a great record, but when you look at all the variables that are involved, going 1-3 against teams that had months of practices versus a few days is really admirable for our kids,” Byron continued.
Marist sports are now officially back in play, and the volleyball team is already back on the court and practicing. It was April 7 when Byron spoke and the campus had plans to come off pause that night, but that was not the case. The pause was extended one final time to April 12, making the team wait even longer. Byron was excited to get back on the court and remained confident in his team and their abilities.
“We will practice five days a week with the kids that are for sure returning,” Byron said. “We have practice plans written and we are ready to go. We are just waiting for the green light from campus.”
Fox and Harrison are two of the players definitely returning next season. As the team is now officially in the offseason, they are looking at ways to improve the team and their own style of play as they head into their senior year. One thing they both heavily emphasized was connection within the team.
“Since I’m a middle and [Fox] sets me, you need connection. The hardest thing to do is have that perfect connection and timing down with my setter,” Harrison said. “Just working on team chemistry and playing together is so important. When we played Iona, we only had a couple practices together. Playing together and being a team wasn’t completely there just because we were playing with six new players we’ve never played with before.”
“I think chemistry on the court comes from chemistry off the court,” Fox responded to Harrison’s comment. “We couldn’t have outside team bonding activities this season, which our team is really big on. I hope in the fall we will be able to do more bonding activities on a normal basis so we can get to know people and each person’s personality off the court. This will turn into how we communicate to each player on the court.”
As for the seniors who may have played their final game on March 14, they do have the opportunity to return if they wish. Byron could not speak on if any seniors would take the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA saying, “they have not had any of those conversations yet.”
This offseason may be one of the more difficult ones to handle. The team needs to focus on team chemistry, the actual play of each athlete, the incoming freshmen class, and what those seniors are actually going to do in regards to their extra year. It’s something Byron, Fox, and Harrison are all looking forward to as they continue to finally practice as a team once again.
Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Sam DiGiovanni
Photo from Marist Athletics