Marist volleyball triumphed over Rider on Saturday in their final home weekend of the season, winning the first set against the Broncs 25-14, losing the second 25-19, and rebounding to win the next two 25-19 and 25-15.
In their last faceoff, Marist pulled off a reverse sweep of the Broncs and took a much-needed win during a five-game win streak early in their MAAC then. Last weekend, Marist took an unfortunate loss to Iona– who Rider recently beat– in five sets, making the matchup between the teams especially intriguing despite Marist’s third position in the standings.
The key for Marist? Their grit and resilience. As described by graduate student and outside hitter Gabrielle Heller, the Red Foxes wanted it more, as a strong attack shined from her and Sasha Van der Merwe with 15 and 16 kills on the day.
“[I think] that shows in all aspects. I mean, we passed really well. We set well, we hit well, and blocked well. And it shows when we want it and when we’re all working cohesively.”
Marist started the first set on a 7-2 run powered by the strength of their kills; their first attempts on offense continued to land and Rider simply didn’t have an answer until they were able to figure out their blocking game. Setter Claire Lewis was subbed in early and provided a perfect set for Heller and faked her next set for two points that kept the Red Foxes at a high-scoring advantage.
After recuperating their offense, Rider’s blocks began to diminish and were overpowered with kills highlighted by Heller and Van der Merwe that continuously made Rider’s blocks go out of bounds. Morgan Munro got involved in the rotation with a kill and a couple of blocks, a testament to her growth throughout the season and enough reason for Byron to get her involved in the rotation of play.
“We defended them really well,” said head coach Sean Byron. “Our main goal was to not let them get first lane attacks, if they’re gonna side out on serves, we have to make them go for another hit, and another and another. It wears you down, just like in football; instead of letting them get eight yards [again and again] on a drive versus two yards again and again.”
Marist’s lead grew to 11 with two points left to go in the first set, as a Heller-led offense made virtually no mistakes to submit Rider. Despite dropping a few points before taking the first set, the Red Foxes’s advantage over Rider was clear: hustle. They never gave up on a point and their hustle showed even when up big on the Broncs.
“We were really comfortable coming into the game,” said Heller. “We scouted them really well. We knew what they were going to come at us with and how they were going to approach defending our hitters and we were really good at knowing what to expect.”
Rider, who showed signs of an effective attacking strategy early in the first set, found their balance and didn’t allow the Red Foxes to have any second thoughts with the ball on their side of the court. That momentum shift exposed Marist to errors attacking and was in need of a reset after their first timeout was called in the contest.
“We were sloppy in the second set,” said Coach Byron. “Seven attack errors and three serving errors. 10 points, and if we convert half of those, that’s five points for us and five for Rider, and that’s a big swing.”
Marist’s first switch after the contest became tied was from Byron, subbing in starting libero Jilian Hanna for senior Morgan Owens, potentially to get more veteran presence in the rotation and give Hanna a rest on reps. What followed was better rhythm on defense; Marist gave themselves more opportunities on digs, keeping the home team in volleys for longer in the third set.
The Red Foxes have struggled against better blocking teams in their conference, with the Siena loss at home in recent memory. The solution was to keep on pounding away at kills without making errors setting up those attacks, an attribute that makes Marist one of the top teams in the MAAC. As the third set had a back-and-forth energy, they kept challenging Rider to make plays on offense rather than falling victim to their wall defense at the net.
With continuous challenges from the trademark trio of Heller, Newblatt, and Van der Merwe, Marist began to pull away in the third set 19-15 before a Rider timeout. The end of the set was controlled by Van der Merwe, with eight kills in the third set that made the arena quake and paint the corners of the court while Marist dominantly pushed ahead to win the set.
What followed in the fourth set was a continuation of their hustle and focus that allowed Marist to go on their scoring runs. The Broncs committed more errors after Marist got through their taller blockers, held as large as a nine-point lead, and even caused the Broncs’ defense to commit more errors than usual. Rider–despite using more substitutions and rotating players– looked winded, and couldn’t keep up with the Red Fox hustle.
With four games left in the MAAC season, the table is more spread at the top than last year with five teams with eight or more wins. With only one home game remaining, the hope is to keep playing good volleyball without letting the reps down in between, a replication of their in-game play today to get to the ten-win mark.
“We played a lot of volleyball this week,” said Byron. “We played up to 1,000 points total from this week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. In previous weeks, we wanted our players to rest and get healthy, but I think we were prepared this week and we can take that into the next three or four weeks.”
Marist isn’t done playing their marathon of volleyball and will play against St. Peter’s tomorrow at 2 p.m. in McCann once again. While resilient, the focus on the playoffs will start soon enough for the Red Foxes.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Kira Crutcher