The Red Foxes’ hopes of playing in the MAAC Championship in Orlando quickly came and went.
The Marist volleyball season was cut short today in upset fashion – similar to their first playoff round last year – by the Rider Broncs in three straight sets, losing 25-15, 25-19, and 25-15.
While Marist had a well-rounded and deep veteran roster to attest to their 14-win season, the Broncs overwhelmed the Red Foxes in almost every aspect of the game with balanced offense and exceptional defense.
Coming into the match, Rider by no means was an easy matchup for the Red Foxes, with All-MAAC First Teamer Morgan Romero on the wing for the Broncs getting 15 kills, one behind opposite wing Tori Schrader with 16 against the Jaspers. In their last matchup, Marist beat the Broncs in four sets, but the Broncs took two away from the Red Foxes in their first matchup before Marist pulled off the reverse sweep. Today was an entirely different story.
Looking to wash away their recent playoff woes (losing last year to sixth-seeded Quinnipiac as the third seed), head coach Sean Byron and his hardened squad were in need of a good start to charge towards the next round of playoffs.
The Broncs had other plans.
With all of their momentum from their dominant win against Manhattan, Rider’s offense was eccentrically better than the Red Foxes for the entirety of the match. Five Rider players had over eight kills in the three sets played, led by junior outside hitter Jenna Amaro.
Whereas Jordan Newblatt, Gabby Heller and match kill leader Sasha van der Merwe contributed with kills of their own early in the first set, Rider continued to have no troubles in any aspect of their game, perfectly defending spikes from the outsides and sneak attacks from the middle.
As the Broncs continued to pull ahead, the Red Foxes looked befuddled with their own attack setups and did not surprise the Rider line of defense. Rider’s ability to quickly set up attacks gave Marist no time to set up attacks and created a separation of attacking ability of the two teams that would continue to show in each set.
When Marist set up for blocks to Romero for kills, Rider perfectly continued to switch around their attackers, with kills from Amaro and six-foot-four-inch Morgan Koch in the first set that scrambled the Red Foxes from returning any meaningful digs.
Marist, a volleyball team thriving on balance and the ability to play clean volleyball, appeared frustrated by Rider’s ability to keep them surprised point after point, going on three to four-point runs between Marist’s singular kills. Marist had a hit percentage of .146 in the first set, keying to their inability of kill setups and lack of response to the available firepower on the Rider line.
Moreover, Rider amassed as much as a ten-point lead in the first set, which Rider held on to despite the outsides for Marist continuing to deliver points. Marist never found their footing in the first set as Rider cruised to the finish and came out ready to take their shocking start into the next set
Rider jumped out to a 5-1 lead to start the second set, highlighted once again by the strength of their play upfront by middle hitters Koch and Carley McAleavey.
While the Red Foxes rebounded from the continuous pummeling by the height of Rider, the Broncs weren’t phased. Playing exceptional defense, Rider shut down Jordan Newblatt on a block from setter Sydney Bond and McAleavey, kickstarting a six-point run for the Broncs that suffocated any chances of Marist starting a run of their own.
Continuing their conga line on the bench with two candy canes, it was clear the Broncs had complete control of the mental game despite positive cheers from the Marist bench.
Marist went on a string of kills late in the second set as each side of the court looked balanced with kills from Newblatt, van der Merwe, and middle Vanessa Zolg. The run was capped off by an ace from libero Morgan Owens, but it was too late.
Only needing two points to shock the Red Foxes once more, Koch provided another powerful spike straight down into the opposition, followed by another picture-perfect block from Sydney Bond and McAleavey.
As if the Red Foxes weren’t in enough trouble, the third set started out in a baffling fashion. Julia Slivka shoved over three consecutive service aces off the rip, leaving the Red Foxes in a state of confusion. This required coach Byron to call a timeout when the Broncs added two kills on top of the serves to continue their dominant statement to the 2nd seed.
Marist fed the ball to van der Merwe to attempt to kickstart the offense, getting two kills for the Marist side. Once again, Rider found a way to get the ball in the middle of Marist defenders and set up quick kills for Jenna Amaro, swinging freely and hard at Marist defenders.
Marist used their second time out as one final hope to restart their game plan down 11-4.
Even with strong sets set up for Newblatt and van der Merwe, Rider’s blocking game shut down the Red Foxes with help from Sydney Bond and McAleavey. Finally, Marist looked as though they had a chance to change the narrative against the ropes with a five-point run of their own, with three consecutive attacking errors and more kills from van der Merwe, the kill leader of the match. Rider called a timeout in an attempt to ice Marist’s run, challenging the Broncs down four.
Just like how the match started, Rider pulled away in powerful fashion from the Red Foxes and continued to dish the ball out to Romano, Amaro, and Bond, racking up five of their last eight points on kills, finishing the game on an 8-1 run. A shocking finish to the big upset of the MAAC Tournament to this point, one that will leave a sour taste in the program entering next year.
Marist did not have the finesse on their offense, to say the least. With a hit percentage of .158 on the day against Rider’s .450, Marist only put together one charging scoring run in the third set and racked up 16 total attack errors, nine more than Rider.
By putting the ball in the hands of five valid attack options, Rider left Marist in the dust with aggressive swings on kills and quickness of their setup, and overpowered the Red Foxes in the blocking department and better played defense.
Marist failed to get their middle involved on the offensive scheme with just three kills from Alyssa White and Zolg combined. Doing so gave Rider clear options to defend and a tough place for Marist to string together points. The Broncs left the Red Foxes without their identity of balanced volleyball and thrived off of their energy from start to finish.
With that, another strong regular season for the Marist volleyball program ends with a playoff loss in Orlando. The second place Red Foxes will have to wait until next season before they can change the playoff narrative for themselves in the MAAC.
Edited by Andrew Hard
Photo from Marist Athletics