Marist Struggles in Defensive Showcase from Siena

Marist volleyball returned home to play the Siena Saints in their eighth conference match of the season, but were upset after winning the first set 25-18, losing the next three 25-18, 25-20, and 26-24 to the underdogs. 

Siena was able to compete with the notable Red Fox attack and more, as Siena’s Hailey Hinkel and Sara Wagner were a dominant attacking force for the Saints, Hinkel finishing with 19 kills and Wagner with 14. What gave Marist the most trouble was Siena’s blocking game; middle blocker Ece Emrullah finished with a whopping 14 blocks, and four other Siena players were credited with more than three.  Arguably the toughest block defense Marist has played against in a single match in the MAAC, that blocking was the difference maker in the early sets where Siena had a larger lead as well as the final two sets, which were back-and-forth volleys between the two teams.

Leaders for the Red Foxes were no surprise, as Sasha van der Merwe led the offense with 16 kills, followed respectively by Jordan Newblatt with 15 and Gabrielle Heller with 14. Newblatt also led the team in digs, right in front of libero Jillian Hanna with 14. Although Marist’s stat sheet was strong, the team’s offense was not as dominant as usual due to the Siena defense. When Marist won points and got on runs of their own, they functioned well collectively.

The Red Foxes were coming off a four game winning streak with three games on the road. Marist’s last two matches went all the way to five sets, most recently against Quinnipiac, who Marist swept earlier in the season. Siena Volleyball entered this game against the Red Foxes with a 3-3 record in conference play and in the middle of the MAAC standings. The last game the two teams played was Marist’s last regular season game of 2021, losing 2-3 to the Saints before losing their first playoff game. Marist looked to prove themselves as a top three MAAC team behind only Iona and Rider.

After some trouble and a missed tip call on Sasha van der Merwe’s attack, the Red Foxes found themselves in a rough patch to start the first set, down 8-3 against the Saints. Marist had trouble recovering two blocking attacks from Hinkel, and called a timeout early on to refresh. Siena’s bench was rambunctious and added to the energy in their hot streak and set an early precedent that would foreshadow their later play.

Soon enough, an ace from Jaden Reasor lowered the scoring deficit, followed by kills from Jordan Newblatt. Soon enough, the Red Foxes forced Siena to make costly errors. A thunderous spike from middle Alyssa White tied the set, and Marist continued to switch up their attack strategy with several speed changes in their kills and utilizing every starter on the court to play to their hand.

Marist continued to gain a sizable lead in the first set, and even on a strong attack from Siena’s corner attackers, Jaden Reaser dove for an impressive dig at center court, feeding van der Merwe a kill. Plays like that were what gave Marist the first set after early trouble. Jordan Newblatt finished the first set with six kills, with Gabrielle Heller and van der Merwe contributing multiple kills in the set.

Siena jumped out in front in the second set, as the Red Foxes committed two coordination errors and failed to return powerful hits from Poland native Wagner, who ranks second on the Saints in kills. The Saints were unable to give as Claire Isaken provided the saints increasing pressure on the front of the net and Hinkel found weak spots in the Marist Rotation. Marist was down 15-7 during the first media timeout of the match and needed a clear change in momentum.

Although the Red Foxes appeared to be frustrated with the Saints seven-point lead, they maintained their physicality and traded points, including a pair of kills from Heller and digs from the backcourt of Newblatt and libero Hanna. Although Siena’s bench stayed rowdy and defense appeared at the top of its game, Marist continued to fight. 

Taking advantage of a service error, the next point for the Red Foxes included an acrobatic leap from Van der merwe kept the ball alive for a painted corner kill for Newblatt. Marist, down as much as eight points, reduced Siena’s lead to 21-16 late in the second set. Marist attack continued to provide  opportunities to potentially change the tide, but Siena’s defense– led by a staggering eight blocks from Emrullah after two sets– was too much for the Red Foxes, and evened the sets at one a piece.

In the most evenly paced set thus far, both teams had clear strengths and weaknesses that showed in the third. Although appearing frustrated at the end of the second set, good playcalling on the frontcourt and a forceful block by Alyssa White and van der Merwe kept the Red Foxes energized and received support from the larger crown in McCann today. Another great block from White and Heller gave the Red Foxes the strengths they needed on defenses to stay close to the Saints instead of falling behind. However, hitters Hinkel and Wagner always managed to find holes when the ball got past the blocking line which allowed them to string a strong run together and take a 16-10 lead on Marist to create separation.

Even with longstanding volleys, Siena continued to find ways to win points, and gained a seven-point lead over the Red Foxes led by continuous pressure from Emrullah at the net and more kills from Wagner and Hinkel. Surprisingly, the Marist fans never lost hope as the arena shook with every positive showing from the Red Foxes. When Siena only needed two points to win the set, the Red Foxes kept surging and stayed within reach of the set, it was once again too late as Siena held on to yet another close set. 

Similarly to the third set, the two teams traded points with an advantage yet again to Siena early on. Whereas Marist has had a clear trio of Newblatt, Heller, and van der Merwe, Siena had a power trio of their own of Hinkel, Wagner, and Emrullah. With minimal errors in the set, the name of the game was clean play, one of the Red Foxes strengths all year when setting up attacks, and a strength of Siena throughout the whole game. Surprisingly, head coach Sean Byron was given a yellow card by the line judge for what appeared to be standing in the play area with a 15-11 Siena lead.

Hinkel continued to be a problem for the Red Foxes, and while in earlier sets Marist stepped it up too late, the triple threat of Red Fox offense came alive. An incredible six-point run with kills from VDM, White and Heller and suddenly the Red Foxes had a chance to even things up. The crowd embraced the competitive nature as Vanessa Zolg provided an important kill and allowed the Red Foxes to beat the Saints to the 20-point mark.

Tied 21-21 with the ball in Wagner’s hand, Sasha Van der merwe delivered a perfect corner kill and forced the Siena coach to call a timeout, advantage Marist 23-21. Yet again Hinkel was able to deliver a kill for the Red Foxes. With a called Newblatt kill on the line, the referees gathered together and overturned the call. Van der merwe gave the Red Foxes another kill, but Siena halted them from forcing a fifth set, going on a 5-1 run and shutting down Marist like they had the last three sets.

This isn’t to say the Red Foxes will not defeat Siena when they play again later this season. However, Marist will need to pick out Siena’s top blockers when on the attacking front in order to prevent the Saints from going on higher scoring runs. Marist’s own defense struggled against Wagner and Hinkel, and in the fourth set their digging improved and prevented less kills from the two attackers. If Marist can recreate their stronger defensive movement that showed late promise against Siena and take their attack from the first set that involved heavy team coordination, they shouldn’t run into the problems they faced today.

Marist will have a few days to regroup before playing an undefeated Fairfield Stags team that bested the team earlier in the year. The team will travel to Connecticut on Wednesday and play the Stags on the road at 7PM.

Edited by Andrew Hard

Photo from Kira Crutcher

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