Marist Volleyball Recuperates in Victory Against Niagara

Marist volleyball regrouped from the ugly loss on Saturday to win against Niagara in four sets, winning the first set 25-21, losing the second set 25-20, and rebounding to win the next two 25-18 and 25-20. 

The offense fired on all cylinders, as Gabrielle Heller and Jordan Newblatt led the team with 16 kills each and Sasha van der Merwe not far behind with 12. Newblatt also led the team with 19 digs, as McKinley Fox led the day in assists with 36, but got help from Claire Lewis (8) and Morgan Owens (9). Multiple players stepped up for the Red Foxes today. Middle hitter Alyssa White was the most efficient player on the day for Marist, tallying a season high eight kills on nine attempts, as well as sophomore Claire Lewis and freshman Morgan Munro coming off the bench to facilitate offense, looking comfortable on the court and ready to make an impact.

“I think today shows that we can go in and get stuff done while playing nice and clean,” said Munro.

After the Red Foxes lost to Canisius, a loss that head coach Sean Byron said had “Every person in our program embarrassed,” the Red Foxes brought improved energy that alleviated the loss on Saturday and put the Red Foxes back in the win column. 

Other than the second set, Marist controlled the lead for most of the match and finished off their home stand back on pace to fortify their position in the top level of the MAAC. 

“Looking back at the schedule the last two weeks, we played Saturday and Sunday in the midweek against Quinnipiac, came back and played Saturday, played Fairfield in the midweek and then this weekend,” said Byron. “It will be nice to have Monday off to rest, three matches in five days is a lot.”

The first set featured what Marist does best: rotating their attackers to give the defense tough looks, including back-to-back kills on middle hits from Alyssa White early on to gain a lead early on. In a series of runs by each team, Niagara didn’t have one clear attacker in their offense but kept up with the Red Foxes with four service aces, including two from freshman setter Kylie Blessing. 

Marist maintained their lead, taking advantage of Niagara errors and getting good looks for their big three of attackers, finishing off the set with four straight points after Niagara tied it up 21-21.

“We made sure that we focused more on ourselves in our own areas and things that we can control rather than what [the opposition] is doing,” said Newblatt.

Marist’s offense started in the second set with four kills for points by Jordan Newblatt that evened the Red Foxes up with the Purple Eagles. Whenever Marist gave their corners a proper set, Niagara could barely defend from the kills, including one from each side by van der Merwe early in the set. 

Marist struggled with a few attack errors and found it tough to coordinate on some unconventional hits by Niagara, and the errors continued to rack up on attacks from Marist’s side. Wronska became especially effective for the Purple Eagles, leading the 2nd set in kills while Niagara took a 14-9 lead.

Marist recuperated after the timeout with more hits set up for Newblatt and took advantage of Niagara’s ability to handle high-velocity kills to gain a lead. The Purple Eagles responded by putting attacks in the empty court. Although Marist’s backcourt is athletic on approaches for digs, the Purple Eagles kept the ball out of reach a number of times, making it increasingly difficult for Marist to get a lead. 

“I’m not sure they really hit a ball,” said Byron. “We blocked them so many times in the game that they went into what we call ‘avoid mode’, so instead of hitting it they kind of just worked around the blocks.”

Despite Newblatt clearly being the most dangerous option for offense on the whole court and racking up 11 kills through the first two sets, Niagara scrambled Marist just enough for the second set.

It was clear Marist noticed Niagara’s ability to prevent digs and stopped their gameplan by forcing the Purple Eagles to create more errors by setting up their own attacks quicker, giving them the lead for the majority of the third set. Instead of giving them opportunities to block, Marist created new looks for their attackers which

“Instead of the hitters always hitting out on the antenna, we moved them in a little bit at times,” said Byron. “We’re running our offense on every surface, and with a big lead we can do developmental plays, so it’s nice that we can do that.”

White made her way back to the offense and continued to give Marist the push they needed to force Niagara into scoring droughts. Most points for both squads were coming off various errors and showed that both teams were becoming fatigued. As the set continued on, Marist’s bench appeared fresher and limited their own mistakes as Heller and Newblatt racked up four kills a piece and gave the Red Foxes the advantage to win in the third.

“I think on Saturday we struggled and then dropped the energy, which gave [Canisius] a momentum shift,” said Newblatt. “So we sure we got that energy back in the third and fourth sets because we knew that we didn’t want to go to five sets.”

The fourth got off to a slower start for the Red Foxes, but kept it even with the Eagles and managed their game control with help from the entire squad, including a powerful block from Vanessa Zolg that started a point streak for the Red Foxes prior to the first timeout. Marist maintained their clean play from the end of the third set and transposed it to gain increasing momentum, including tremendous play from Claire Lewis, consecutively providing a fake-out set and a dig to sustain Marist’s big fourth set lead. 

Coming back from the bench, Munro played the outside for the Red Foxes and was instantly involved. The freshman provided two statement kills–her first two of the match– that boosted the chemistry of the Red Foxes and gave them confidence to secure the win. 

“It feels good that I can go out there and be supported by the whole team and just be able to go do my thing,” said Munro.

With the match within three points of a Marist victory, Niagara went on a 7-2 run that forced Coach Byron to sub Fox and Van der merwe back in the game to ensure victory, ending on a kill from Gabrielle Heller. 

The Red Foxes closed out their weekend with a necessary mood shift from the night game on Saturday and get a week to refresh before a weekend road trip in New York against Iona and Manhattan. 

Marist proved that an upset loss won’t get in their way and got help from the entirety of their squad today in three sets where they were the clear favorites. Marist’s first stop is at Iona next Saturday at 1 P.M.

Edited by Andrew Hard

Photo from Kira Crutcher

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