Forget Non-Conference: Marist Sweeps Siena in MAAC Opener

The Red Foxes defended home court with a commanding 3-0 win over Siena, in front of a loud crowd at McCann Arena on Friday night. Fans filled the stands for Marist’s home opener, many wearing red as part of the “Red Out” efforts to attract fans to the Red Foxes’s home debut.

From a player perspective, the crowd showed up.

“It was awesome… I don’t think we have ever had a crowd that large,” said senior outside hitter Sasha van der Merwe.

It was a long awaited homecoming for the Red Foxes, who just finished up a brutal out of conference schedule that saw them play a few teams ranked in the Top 25. This challenging schedule was put in place to prepare them for conference play, which showed tonight.

“We played a lot of really tough teams, some ranked teams… it was a battle,” said van der Merwe.

In the 3-0 victory, Marist won by a score of 25-19 in set one followed by two 25-22 sets to complete the sweep. Powering up the offense was Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year Sasha van der Merwe, who led both sides with 16 kills and four aces. Senior outside hitter Jordan Newblatt followed with ten kills, just ahead of redshirt junior outside hitter Gabriella Heimbauer with nine kills. 

On defense, it was a pure team effort. Countless times, great hustle from the Marist side of the net kept plays alive, ultimately stealing a few points for the Red Foxes. Senior and junior middle hitters Vanessa Zolg and Alyssa White were a presence at the net, holding Siena to just a .161 hitting percentage.

After a back and forth start to set one, Marist was ultimately pulled away thanks to their consistent hitting and tough serving. Five different Red Foxes combined for 11 kills, four of which came from Newblatt. 

While trailing 23-16 in the first set, Siena rattled off a three point run, including a great tip kill from redshirt junior outside hitter Anny Montano. A kill from Zolg would end the Siena point streak and suppress the danger.

At the service line, Marist put seven aces through Siena’s defenses, in addition to many serves that put the Saints out of their system. The last ace came on the first set point from freshman setter Kaitlyn Owens, allowing Marist to secure their first set cleanly.

Siena would ultimately have no answer for Marist’s high powered offense in the second. Van der Merwe delivered a back row attack that deflected off a Saints defender and found its way into the stands, as well as a thunderous kill that seemingly caught Siena freshman libero Payton Hinkle in the face. These were just two of van der Merwe’s eight kills of the second set. 

Photo from Kira Crutcher

Heimbauer had over half of her kills on the night in set two. Two of her five kills came on back to back plays late in the set, both tools off the block that gave Marist a 21-18 lead.

Once again, Owens stepped to the service line with the scoreboard showing a 24-19 Marist lead, but this time she was not able to close the set out with a bang. Siena rattled off three straight points before van der Merwe delivered a kill to take home the second set for the Red Foxes.

Though Siena would jump to a 7-3 lead in the third set, Claire Lewis stepped up to the line.

Photo from Kira Crutcher

Lewis did it all, starting with a huge joust win at the net to give Marist their first lead of the set, 9-8. She would follow that up on the next play with a great set to Heimbauer, who hammered it home for a kill, causing Siena to call their first timeout. 

Out of the timeout, Lewis denied an attack by Montano, ensuring the momentum stayed with Marist. Once Lewis rotated to the service line, she recorded two aces on a four point Red Fox run. In that run, she made a great save on a ball, allowing Newblatt to deliver a kill that had the home crowd erupting. 

“She’s been like that every day,” head coach Sean Byron said regarding Lewis’ hustle and grit shown in the third set.

Lewis, who rolled her ankle in warm-ups which required her to get it taped pregame (and retaped after the second set) was crucial in Marist’s come from behind victory in the third set. Marist would hold off a late Siena push, winning the set 25-22.

The Red Foxes, who entered play at 2-9 thanks to their grueling out of conference schedule, now start fresh, 1-0 in MAAC conference play. With sights set on the MAAC tournament in November, Marist can now put their rough start behind them. 

“We gotta be able to get some wins and some momentum going for your confidence… I think they got that,” Byron said.

So far, testing themselves before conference play has looked like it worked for the best. 

“I think how we were challenged with those teams is something we need to bring to the MAAC,” van der Merwe said. 

Marist will look to further prove themselves and move to 2-0 in the MAAC next Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. against Rider, the team that knocked them out of the conference tournament last season. Once again, the game will be played at McCann Arena, where another big crowd could go a long way in helping the Red Foxes take home another win.

Edited By Dan Aulbach

Cover Photo Credit: Jaylen Rizzo

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