The Mid-Season Roundtable: Fall Sports

With midterms week coming to an end, it’s time to evaluate Marist’s fall sports teams. We asked our beat writers, Andrew Hard (football), Luke Sassa (men’s soccer), Dylan Thompson (women’s soccer), and Dan Aulbach (volleyball), some questions about their teams as we sit at the midway point of the season. Here’s what they had to say.

What has been the biggest storyline of your team’s season to this point?

Andrew Hard, Football: For the Marist football team, the biggest story has been their search for some sort of offensive attack. After an offseason where the Red Foxes lost their starting quarterback, top two running backs, and top wide receiver, there were many questions about how they could step up.

After blowout losses to Georgetown and Columbia, Marist has been able to find some footing in PFL play. In their three PFL contests, the offense has generated more than 20 points per game, and they have gone 2-1 in those three games. True sophomore quarterback Brock Bagozzi has taken a step up in Marist’s PFL games, which has been good to see considering head coach Jim Parady has been rotating him with redshirt freshman Diego Arroyo to determine who will be the long-term starting QB. All of this is reason to be impressed with Marist’s 2-1 conference record, which places fourth in the PFL.

Luke Sassa, Men’s Soccer: Coming off of a MAAC championship a season ago, the men’s soccer team experienced major roster turnover in the offseason, with essentially half of the team being composed of new faces. The process of replicating past success with new players has been fascinating to watch, with players acclimating to new roles up and down the roster. The team started out well, opening the season 4-2-1 in non-conference play, but overall the result has been largely disappointing, with injuries and suspensions (more on that later) plaguing the team as they’ve sagged to a 1-3 record to start conference play. They now find themselves in a hole, trailing conference leader Niagara by seven points in the standings. 

One key theme thus far has been the team’s inability to close; they ceded the go-ahead goal during the 89th minute of their loss to Gonzaga, the tying goal during the 88th minute of their draw with Colgate, and most recently the tying and go-ahead goals during the 76th and 77th minute of their demoralizing loss to Siena this past Saturday.

Dylan Thompson, Women’s Soccer: The Marist women’s soccer team experienced a roster overhaul this past season. They graduated almost a full team of players and brought in 13 freshmen. This has led to the Red Foxes struggling to get results because they lack the ability to rise to another level. Marist has struggled to close out games when leading and they have struggled to raise their game to another level. 

The Red Foxes have dropped points in multiple games this season. Just last week, the Red Foxes were in a prime position to grab their biggest result of the season against the 2021 MAAC champions Quinnipiac, but they failed to raise their game to another level in the second half. This problem has hindered them from reaching their goal of contending for a MAAC championship. As they push for a spot in the MAAC Playoffs, head coach Brittany Kolmel will need her young players to rise to the occasion.

Dan Aulbach, Volleyball: It’s been business as usual for coach Sean Byron and Marist volleyball. Let me explain. In my preview, I mentioned that the volleyball team retained an overwhelming majority of its roster from the 2021 season and can repeat a similar (if not better) regular season by retaining a similar starting lineup and adding a new weapon on offense, former Washington State outside hitter Gabrielle Heller.

Even though the team lost to the underdog Siena Saints in their most recent home game, the Red Foxes are in third place through the halfway mark, only behind Iona and 2021 MAAC champions Fairfield. Marist swept current second seed Iona swiftly earlier in the year, and despite playing without all-MAAC outside hitter Jordan Newblatt against Fairfield, kept in close even though they lost all three sets. If they can get past a mid-season return trip to Fairfield, it should be smooth sailing to the MAAC playoffs.

Volleyball has been solid under Sean Byron this season (from Kira Crutcher)

Who has been your team’s MVP so far this season?

Andrew: This one is easy – redshirt senior safety Clayborne Fields III. He has been by far and away Marist’s momentum shifter, and there is a reason why multiple NFL teams have come to Poughkeepsie to scout him. Even on plays that give up big yardage, Fields has not been afraid to lower his shoulder and lay the boom just to give his team some sort of confidence boost. 

Fields leads the Red Foxes in solo tackles with 20 and tied for the team lead in interceptions and pass breakups with one and three respectively. Fields is also tied for the team lead in touchdowns, and remember that he is a defensive player! Both of those touchdowns came in the final three minutes against Stetson when Fields scored a go-ahead 89-yard punt return touchdown and then a 70-yard pick-six on the ensuing defensive possession. This feat earned him a “Helmet Sticker” on ESPN’s College Football Final.

Luke: An honorable mention goes out to the now-injured sophomore forward Richard Morel, who leads the men’s soccer team in goals scored with four, but the MVP at this point of the season has to be junior left wing Jared Juleau. The key transfer player from St. John’s has thrived in a larger role with the Red Foxes, having scored twice and notching an assist in four consecutive matches earlier this season, totaling five for the year. Juleau has been the ultimate playmaker this season, leading the team with nine points despite missing two games.

The only knock on Juleau has been his ability to stay on the field, as he missed two games as a result of being suspended. His first suspension was served during a 4-0 win over Saint Peter’s after receiving a red card during a dustup in the previous match against Cornell, while his second suspension, a result of racking up five yellow cards on the year, came over the weekend during a narrow 2-1 loss to Siena. The loss was a clear indication that the team will need Juleau on the pitch for good moving forward if they hope to turn their season around.

Losing Richard Morel is a big blow for men’s soccer (from Marist Athletics)

Dylan: Brittany Kolmel knew that she needed to address the lack of scoring in the offseason. She did just that by bringing in fifth-year forward Nicole Colantuono from Notre Dame. Colantuono has made an instant impact on the Red Foxes’ offense as she has been their most consistent offensive player. 

Despite never scoring a goal in her career at Notre Dame, Colantuono leads Marist in goals with four and has one assist. She has helped Marist improve their offensive scoring as the Red Foxes have 14 goals through 12 games compared to 12 at this point last year. If the Red Foxes are going to make noise in the MAAC Playoffs, Colantuono will have to continue her strong play. 

Dan: What Sasha Van Der Merwe provides this year for the Red Foxes is the main reason why the offense has a boosted feel. Van Der Merwe leads the entire conference in kills (by over 30) and kills per set. Whenever the outside hitter is on a hot streak, the set falls in favor of Marist, most recently racking up 17 kills in the comeback win against Rider, getting most of those in the third and fifth sets. 

Her spikes are powerful, and when on a roll she can paint the edges of the court and completely overwhelm defenders past the net. Van Der Merwe is also third on the team in blocks; her height and athleticism allow her to be just behind the middle hitters when credited in blocks while providing powerful attacks and digs. Van Der Merwe’s versatility and clutch performances are the backbone of the Red Foxes’ success.

As we reach the midway point of the fall season, who or what has been the biggest surprise?

Andrew: The biggest surprise for football so far has been the play of the defense – and I don’t mean that in a good way. 

Fans came into the season expecting an improved defense from last year considering the number of returning starters, however, that hasn’t necessarily come to fruition. While we have seen good to great play from individual players, including Clay Fields, they have given up a lot of yardage. Marist gives up 400.8 total yards per game, fourth worst in their conference. They also have the third-worst scoring defense in the conference, giving up 35 points per game. 

If I had heard this before the season, I would have automatically assumed Marist had gone 0-3 in their PFL start. However, the offense has stepped up in these games, so this makes them just as much of a surprise. I expect the defense to step up as the season progresses, but they are in for a tough task with a creative Davidson offense, one that has averaged 35.5 points per game to start their PFL campaign.

The Marist football defense has had its struggles this season (from Kira Crutcher)

Luke: The emergence of sophomore forward Richard Morel as the men’s soccer team’s leading scorer had certainly been the biggest pleasant surprise of the season, but a serious knee injury suffered against Quinnipiac last week has put the remainder of his season in doubt. Prior to the injury, Morel turned heads with his improved offensive output from a season ago. As a freshman, he received valuable playing time, scoring three goals and notching four assists in 18 starts. 

Morel continued his development this year by successfully taking on an even larger role, scoring four times in his first eight matches played, but now his ascension has been put on hold as the team searches for answers on offense in the wake of his injury.

Dylan: The biggest surprise of the season for women’s soccer has to be the growth of junior defender Samantha Caldarelli. She has emerged as a key force in the Red Foxes’ lineup and the offensive attack. Not to be confused with sister Amanda who is second on the team in goals, Samantha has made a name for herself this season. 

After not making a single appearance during her first two seasons, Caldarelli has surprised people as she is third on the team in goals with three and has one assist. She has also started 10 of the 12 games this season, and she has been rock solid on defense.

Unfortunately, Caldarelli recently picked up a lower leg injury against Iona, but they hope to get her back this season. If Caldarelli comes back, I expect her to have a big impact on the Red Foxes making the MAAC Playoffs.

It’s been a struggle for women’s soccer to generate any offense this season (from Jonathan Kinane)

Dan: I have to keep hyping up this offense, don’t I? The key word is balance. They have the ability to switch the attack from all three outsides based on the looks they’re getting throughout the game, allowing each player or multiple to shine during a set. 

McKinley Fox has over 600 saves throughout the first half, on pace to break her personal record of 1096 assists– with only nine set errors. Fox can feed the ball with superb efficiency so not only are the outsides getting the action but middle hitters Alyssa White and Vanessa Zolg will get their share of kills to surprise the opposing defense. 

Leading the team on digs, libero Morgan Owens is sixth in the MAAC, but the starting rotation all has the athletic capabilities to cover if Owens is on the other side of the court. Balance, balance, balance. Even if down a set, the Red Foxes will still focus on a balanced attack.

Is your team living up to preseason expectations?

Andrew: In a way, even though Marist has a 2-3 record, I believe that they are exceeding expectations. This is kind of crazy to say considering their record is under .500, but I’m looking mainly at how they have performed during PFL play to this point. 

I have already gone through reasons why in prior answers, but they all add together to create a team who might not finish at the top of their league, but right around the smack middle, which is better than being at the bottom. Then again, it seems like Marist historically always finishes in the middle of the PFL, with a conference record right around .500. The Red Foxes are definitely on that track again, but I didn’t think it was possible after the key losses stemming from last year’s iteration. 

Marist was picked to finish sixth in the conference, and right now they are fourth, so I will say that they are not just living up to preseason expectations, but going beyond them.

Luke: Flashback to September 28th, and all was well for the men’s soccer team, as they sported a 5-2-1 overall record after thrashing Saint Peter’s to the tune of a 4-0 score. Since then, the team has dropped three straight contests by a one-goal margin, quite literally adding insult to injury as they’ve dealt with players shuffling in and out of the lineup. While there are valid reasons for the recent slip in performance, it doesn’t matter; the reality is that Marist finds themselves in a deep hole in the standings with just six matches left on the schedule.

The team’s .500 record and .250 conference winning percentage are a far cry from preseason expectations set forth by some of the team’s veterans, as senior defender Henrique Cruz had conveyed his belief that his team was the best in the MAAC when interviewed for the team preview, while graduate student goalkeeper Samuel Ilin had his sights set on the NCAA tournament. Now, the Red Foxes will just be lucky to get back to the conference tournament, as they currently find themselves out of playoff position.

Dylan: The women’s soccer team has not lived up to preseason expectations this season despite the offensive strides they have made. They were projected to finish tied for fifth in the MAAC conference, but they currently sit tied for eighth place and outside the final playoff spot. 

Marist had the most players selected to the Preseason All-MAAC Team as junior midfielder Amanda Caldarelli, senior defender Samantha Sturno, and graduate student goalkeeper Natalie Kelchner made the list. Although these three have performed at a high level, the young players have not done enough to put Marist in a position to be a serious contender. The team is sitting in the same place as last year and they need to show that they are heading in the right direction by the end of this season.

Dan: Although that Siena loss stings, you can’t win ‘em all. This team is living up to expectations and has the potential to do more. Marist was polled to be the 4th team in the MAAC, one position worse than the previous year. However, their roster has not skipped a beat even with the loss of Gabriella Heimbauner. With surprises in the step-ups on returning roster players and Gabby Heller, the Red Foxes have definitely turned some heads from opponents. We will learn a lot about this team in their next few games, which come against tough competition. If Marist does well, then we can ramp up expectations for the postseason.

Here’s your chance to revise your original prediction if you made one. Give us your updated prediction here.

Andrew: Before the season started, I picked Marist to finish 4-7 overall, with three of those seven losses coming from their nonconference schedule (Georgetown, Columbia, and Bucknell). They have already lost two of those three games, as well as one conference game against St. Thomas, who is now at the top of the PFL standings.

Based on the way that they are playing right now, I do believe that they will finish with at least four wins, and to be honest, they might end up with five or six. With the exception of Valparaiso, every remaining PFL team on Marist’s schedule has a worse conference record than them, so they have that going for them. 

It’s still early in the conference season so narratives can shift fast. For all we know, it could all fall apart and we will have a completely different outlook on the team by the end of the year. But you should be somewhat satisfied if you are a Marist football fan.

Luke: To rise back up with the cream of the crop, men’s soccer will need a run reminiscent of last year’s final month, when they finished the season on a 5-0-1 run to claim first place in the conference standings heading into tournament play. Looking at things more realistically, the Red Foxes only have three points to their name, so they will likely need to win at least three of their remaining six matches to have a realistic chance to generate enough points to qualify for the tournament. 

Their schedule gives them a real chance of doing so, with matches against rudderless teams in Canisius (1-5-6, 0-2-3) and Rider (2-7-2, 1-2-1) and mediocre squads in Manhattan (4-4-3, 2-1-1) and Fairfield (5-7, 1-3). All told, I predict that the Red Foxes will go 3-1-2 over their final six matches, finishing the year with an overall record of 8-6-3, a conference record of 4-4-1, and 13 points, which should be just enough to squeeze into the tournament.

Dylan: My original prediction for the women’s soccer team was for them to finish in the middle of the MAAC standings and win a playoff game to kickstart the Kolmel era. 

Unfortunately, at this point in the season, I don’t see Marist doing that. The Red Foxes have been too inconsistent for my liking this season and I am nervous about how they are unable to rise to the level needed to beat great teams at times. At this point in the season, Marist has won one of their last six games and they need to get it together as they look to finish this season strong. 

Ultimately, I expect the Red Foxes to sneak into the playoffs as a low seed and lose in the first round like they did last season. The playoff success will have to wait another year for Kolmel and the Red Foxes as this is still a rebuild.

Dan: Going off of a spectacular preseason, I predicted the volleyball team to hold on to its third-place position in the standings, with the chance to bump up or down a seed. It’s safe to say that prediction has held up and the story remains the same: the Red Foxes do not want a first-round exit. 

If the Red Foxes can rebound from the defeat Siena gave them at home and stay vigilant against these top MAAC teams they will play in the coming games, they will hold onto the seed they’ve had since the start of conference play. I mean, it’d also be nice to get my prediction right.

Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Jonathan Kinane

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