Marist volleyball made their home opener an electric statement piece after sweeping the Manhattan Jaspers in three straight sets in McCann arena; winning 25-8, 25-6, and 25-17 earlier today. Standout performers included Sasha Van der Merwe with 12 kills and two blocks, as well as setter and captain McKinley Fox with 25 assists through the first two sets in the competition.
It’s easy to say that the Red Foxes will use this sweep as a well-deserved confidence booster in the early part of their schedule. Marist headed into their home opener with a 4-6 record against their non-conference opponents, losing two in a row against ACC juggernaut Boston College and most recently against UAlbany.
Manhattan, who finished last in the MAAC last year with only two wins in conference play, failed to take a set off the Red Foxes in two matches last year. Marist never lost the lead through the three sets and started out the first two sets with more than six consecutive points.
“We tried to take it contact by contact and not get caught up with being in a scoring run, because that’s when your mental engagement drops out,” said coach Sean Byron.
Engaged is almost an understatement to describe the mental focus of the Red Foxes today. Even when up two sets with different starters in the mix, the bench was the loudest group in the arena and exemplified their boosted team chemistry with the sweep today. It was impossible to ignore the energy coming from the Marist side of the ball, something that four-time captain McKinley Fox was thrilled with.
“That’s something that we’ve talked about in the past, we’ve had some trouble, especially my sophomore year, where we just weren’t getting into the games, and we’d get down on ourselves,” said Fox. “I think that kind of energy from the bench to the court is something that we’re looking to do [this season].”
“This really means a lot,” said Van der Merwe. “We didn’t have a normal seven out and we got to see a lot of people on the floor. I think it’s that kind of experience, especially for our freshmen getting in that means a lot for our chemistry.”
Marist clearly wanted to change the tide of their losing streak no later than today, starting off with six straight points including an ace from All-MAAC left-side hitter Jordan Newblatt. The execution of the offense was nearly flawless after a long first-point volley, with graduate student transfer Gabrielle Heller and Sasha Van der Merwe leading the team on kills in the first set. Marist only committed one serve error and one attack error in that set.
“Especially before today’s game, we talked a lot about making sure that during this game we weren’t too loose,” said Van der Merwe. “We knew that we had to come in here and we had a job to do. I think a lot of team talk is what helped us minimize our errors.”
This was more than a simple home opener for Van der Merwe. Around this time last year in the 2021 season, she took an unfortunate ankle injury and was unable to play at full strength till the end of the season. Today, she led the team in kills with 12 through her two sets and simply overpowered Manhattan blockers.
“It’s good to be back. I almost feel like I have a little something to prove, but I think just being able to play at home healthy, it means a lot,” said Van der Merwe. “It makes me proud to rep the part.
Marist didn’t stop their prowess in the second set and put up a twelve spot on the Jaspers before they were able to respond. Fox fed Van der Merwe four kills in the scoring run and Marist kept their lead margin above 14 points for the entirety of the second set. The Red Foxes never broke a sweat and stayed aggressive on the ball throughout their match, despite some scoring runs for Manhattan in the later parts of each set. Even on strong Manhattan putbacks, the defense responded with solid digs, including a team-high 17 from Libero Morgan Owens.
“I think it started with our serve, we just served them out of system,” said Coach Byron. “It’s tough to hit with setters setting 15 to 20 feet off the bat, which allowed our defense to line up on attackers. I thought Morgan [Owens] played great in terms of lining up and making some of those plays.”
The third set brought in a change in starters for Marist, including freshman Morgan Munro and sophomore setter Claire Lewis, who recorded 11 assists during her play today, tying the Manhattan leader in assists Sarah Emmons. Newblatt and sophomore middle hitter Alyssa White led the 3rd set with four kills a piece. Newblatt finished the day with eight kills, good for second on the team. White clearly was a standout performer in the 3rd set and utilized the start to springboard the Red Foxes towards the sweeping victory on the day.
“She was good for 10 percent of our total offense, including game three playing everything,” said Byron. “Obviously Jordan and Gabby and Sasha are going to get their swings, but being able to get some of those in the middle is nice.”
After a standout victory and a statement for games to come, Marist faces Iona at home tomorrow at 2 p.m.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Marist Athletics