Sweeping the Weekend Away: Marist Usurps Iona

Marist volleyball continued their stellar play and completed their sweep of the weekend, beating Iona 25-15, 25-20, 28-26 in a back-and-forth blockbuster of a final set for the Red Foxes.

In their first weekend game, Marist was able to perform in a picture-perfect first two sets yesterday, leaving a lot of pressure on the offense to repeat that performance again. With a tougher opponent, they managed to spread the offense, as Sasha van der Merwe, Jordan Newblatt and Gabrielle Heller all finished with nine or more kills. Newblatt led the team on the day in kills (17) and digs (18) and stood out in the second set with nine kills.

Iona entered the day first in the MAAC standings after a strong non-conference record at 6-4, defeating opponents such as Providence, Holy Cross, and Central Connecticut. Marist beat Iona both times last season, winning early in the season 3-1 and later taking them to five sets 3-2. Despite a scrappy, frantic game plan involving a large rotation in kills per player and solid defense, Marist held on in the third set to overcome the first challenge of the MAAC season for the veteran squad.

“They were trying to spread [the offense] all around, so just trying to stay patient and keep to your spot was key,” said head coach Sean Byron.

After sweeping Manhattan in their home opener on Saturday, Marist looked to withhold their thunderous energy into the last game of the weekend, knowing that Iona would be a tougher opponent than the Jaspers. 

Defensively on the ball, Iona’s Hope Matshner came into the MAAC season leading the conference in digs; she is a previous MAAC Libero of the Week for Iona and third in digs last year. A tougher defense than the Jaspers, the Red Foxes knew they would have to have precision on their attacks in order to get through the Gael’s line of defense.

“We had to make sure we were swinging high and hitting the ball hard,” said Newblatt. “They’re a better defensive team and better blocking team, and we had to go out and swing with no fear.”

In the first set, the difference maker that allowed Marist to take the lead was the advantage of clean play. Marist started their first set with two quick and precise kills by van der Merwe (finishing the day just under Newblatt with 16), and they continued to score on Iona attack errors. A small run for Iona on a service ace was stopped by an attack error by the Gaels, giving Marist the chance to gain a larger lead on two service aces from Gabrielle Heller. 

Marist used their balance in strong offensive players to trick up the Gaels. Iona was able to get some ground back and keep the game within six after a few attack errors by the Marist offense. Outside hitters Heller and van der Merwe finished the first set with four kills apiece.

A timeout for Marist refreshed the offense and two strong kills gave Marist a chance to attack. Though Iona showed some competitiveness with three kills led by junior Elana Bianchi, costly service and attack errors gave Marist the advantage, as the first set ended with an out-of-bounds kill attempt by Bianchi.

Marist continued their streak of scoring first in sets in the second set with an athletic one handed dig from Gabby Heller, followed by three consecutive kills from Newblatt. However, a new test for Marist came with three straight attack errors from the offense, causing Marist to lose their first lead of the MAAC season. 

Van der Merwe provided her first offense of the second set with an unreturnable spike straight into the ground. Iona responded with two kills of their own. The Red Foxes racked up the blocks as Newblatt continued to provide the spark in the offense with kills from both the front court and precision from the backcourt.

“I think Jordan is having to do a lot more than she did last year,” said Byron. “Early in the season she started to press a lot more and put herself out to get the ball instead of just being patient. I think that she’s coming into that more like today.”

After Iona’s first timeout in the second set, the Gaels offense started to improve with kills from each of the hitters. Their ability to spread their offense was a struggle on many points for the defense. The Gaels used multiple subs on their frontcourt as six players on the offense tallied multiple kills; Marist couldn’t respond to the Gael’s faster attacks and kept the lead down to two. 

Though unconventional, the Red Foxes kept their cool as Newblatt capped off her incredible second set with a powerful spike through the blocking front, as Marist took a 2-0 lead.

Marist’s streak of first set points ended, proving the Gaels would not back down easy in the third set. Mackenzie Wiggins and Bianchi were able to rack up kills that confused Marist’s rotation and led to back and forth kills from each team. That’s when the Marist bench woke up, and van der Merwe provided a spike that sounded like a gunshot, keeping them from behind Iona. 

The set continued with back and forth runs, including a volley that Marist won because of an excellent block from Vanessa Zolg and Heller. That didn’t stop Iona, who gained a point over Marist on a service ace from Tamara Pichardo before the media timeout. 

Byron credited the team’s engagement and commitment to each point in the later game of the set.

“We got a little loose, but then we dialed it in again,” said coach Byron. “It was close, but I never really felt like we were starting to lose it.”

Both Iona and Marist looked more winded at the end of the third set, but with the match on the line of victory, van der Merwe provided a kill followed by the serve in Newblatt’s hands, where she provided an ace. 

When Iona’s Bianchi and Wiggins responded with a kill and an ace, Byron called a timeout as the Marist faithful went into a frenzy as a line of support. Despite being down 23-21, the Red Foxes managed to keep their cool and were able to close the margin with three consecutive points after the timeout.

“We made sure after every point we come together, regroup and just know that [this is] a new point, and it doesn’t matter about the last point,” said Newblatt

In a painstakingly long effort, the game went past the 25 mark as the set continued to go back and forth runs that had the entire arena locked in on every single hit. Despite being on the ropes down 26-25, the Red Foxes kept their mental focus that they retained for the whole weekend, and finished with three consecutive points including a Newblatt kill that capped off her impressive performance and a successful weekend for the team.

“[We proved] we’re a good team and that we can play consistently,” said Newblatt. “We started off strong; we started to lose focus a little bit in the middle but we made sure we could regroup, got it back and just played our game.”

Marist set the foundation for a promising and fiery MAAC season with their efficient play and ability to keep cool under pressure. 

With a matchup against reigning MAAC champion Fairfield, the Red Foxes proved they will not be letting any set off easy and play for every individual point in their matches. That matchup with the Stags will be contested at the McCann Center on Saturday, September 24th at 2 p.m.

Edited by Andrew Hard

Photo from Marist Athletics

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