Marist welcomed the defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Quinnipiac Bobcats to McCann Arena today and lost a tough battle in five sets.
Entering the season, the Red Foxes tied the Bobcats atop the MAAC preseason coaches poll, and their first matchup did not disappoint. The heavyweight bout went the distance as Quinnipiac fought back from a 2-0 hole, winning three straight sets to take the afternoon’s contest in five.
In the first set, Marist played at their best and looked unstoppable. Despite Quinnipiac jumping out to a quick 6-2 lead, the Red Foxes took the set 25-13. Their slow start seemingly flipped a switch for Marist as they began hitting on all facets of the game, closing the set on a 23-7 run.
The Marist defense was lock down, holding Quinnipiac to a -.031 hitting percentage. Junior setter Claire Lewis and both middle blockers, junior Alyssa White and senior Vanessa Zolg, set the tone at the net early. The Red Foxes blocked four balls in the first set and had countless touches to slow down Quinnipiac’s attacks.
On offense, the Red Foxes remained balanced. Senior outside hitter Sasha van der Merwe notched four kills, redshirt junior outside hitter Gabriella Heimbauer followed closely with three, and senior outside hitter Jordan Newblatt, Zolg, and White all added in one of their own.
Quinnipiac put the blowout set behind them, playing Marist in a tight set number two. Neither team could gain much separation throughout as the set remained back and forth. The match began to look as expected, with two of the MAAC’s best teams playing at their best.
Van der Merwe took over the second set, putting 10 kills in the book. While they may not have had an answer for van der Merwe, the Bobcats held a 23-21 lead, looking to strike back and win a set of their own. Van der Merwe drilled two straight kills that forced a Quinnipiac timeout, followed by a huge block from Newblatt and White, putting Marist at set point. Two points later, van der Merwe’s tenth kill of the set would give Marist a 2-0 lead.
Like the previous two matches, the Red Foxes carried a 2-0 lead into the third set. In both games, they took care of business, sweeping both Siena and Rider 3-0.
Unfortunately for the Red Foxes, the Bobcats were different.
“They had grad students, seniors, and a veteran group; they’re not gonna roll over. The last two teams that we played kind of rolled over,” said head coach Sean Byron.
Quinnipiac’s experience and championship pedigree ultimately kept them in it, believing they could stage a reverse sweep.
Tied at 14, sophomore outside hitter Yagmur Gunes would go on a four-point service run, giving the Bobcats a comfortable lead that they would not relinquish. Sophomore outside hitter Ginevra Giovagnoni had five kills in the set and also got her hands on plenty of Red Fox attacks, helping her teammates behind her have easier balls to dig.
Quinnipiac would win the set 25-20 on a smooth setter dump from sophomore setter Damla Gunes. The Bobcats staved off elimination for the time being, but Marist still held a 2-1 advantage.
The fourth set provided more of the same as the Bobcats figured out Marist’s offense. After recording 39 kills in the first three sets, Marist was held to just seven in the fourth set.
The Bobcats may have been strong on defense at the net, but a lot of the credit lies within the back row, led by graduate student libero Aryanah Diaz. Quinnipiac’s back row kept everything up, whether it be Marist attacks or long deflections off the block in front of them.
Quinnipiac would win the set comfortably, 25-16. Heading into the fifth and final set, the Bobcats seemed to be in the driver’s seat.
The Bobcats picked up right where they had left off, scoring the first four points. Those quick points were more pivotal than ever since the fifth set is first to 15 points rather than 25.
Marist could not recover from their slow start, while Quinnipiac ran away with the game. Once again, the block was phenomenal, holding Marist to just two kills on a -.176 hitting percentage in the fifth. Diaz was everywhere on defense, and Quinnipiac converted on their swings, powering them to a 15-7 win.
The Red Foxes have a quick turnaround, hosting Fairfield tomorrow at 1 p.m. They will have to turn the page as Fairfield enters tomorrow’s contest undefeated in MAAC play at 3-0 and has not dropped a set to a MAAC opponent yet.
“It’s not like football where you have to sit all week and bask in your victory or revel in your losses; you have to be able to bounce back and go again,” said Byron.
Marist will look to put today’s close loss behind them, attempting to prevent one loss from turning into two against another formidable opponent.
Edited by Sam Murphy
Photo Credit: Jaylen Rizzo