For the second straight day, Marist welcomed a top opponent in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the McCann doors. The Fairfield Stags entered the Sunday afternoon match 3-0 in MAAC play, yet to even drop a set to a conference opponent.
Marist had other plans.
Not only did the Red Foxes hand Fairfield their first defeat in a set, but also their first loss of the season, winning after going the distance in a marathon-like five sets.
In a full team effort that saw three Red Foxes record over 15 kills, the star of the show was junior setter Claire Lewis. Lewis set a career high with 62 assists, while even adding in two kills and three aces.
Lewis could not have done it without her hitters, led by senior outside hitters Sasha van der Merwe and Jordan Newblatt. Van der Merwe hammered home 23 kills, including four in the decisive fifth set to 15 points. Newblatt would go for 20 kills, also nailing four in the fifth set.
After dropping the first set, redshirt junior outside hitter Gabriella Heimbauer was crucial in the second set, recording seven kills to help Marist tie the match up at one apiece.
The defense was led by freshman libero CC Potter-Pessoa, who recorded 26 digs. In the previous two games, Potter-Pessoa had been impressive in a limited role, earning her the start at libero over freshman libero Katherine Thompson. Thompson would stay involved, playing Heimbauer’s back row.
The Red Foxes started off slow due to the aftershock of yesterday’s crushing five set loss to Quinnipiac. Marist hit for a -.026 percentage in set one, including 11 swings out of bounds.
“The kids were excited and trying to do too much,” said head coach Sean Byron.
In the end, they only lost the set by three points, an encouraging sight, as the Red Foxes hung close in a set where they were clearly not playing at their best.
Unfortunately, it carried over into the second set, when Fairfield took a 6-3 lead before Byron called an early timeout. Out of the timeout, Marist looked like a whole new team.
“We started off a little shaky there, we were kind of down I think from yesterday’s match… we decided to put that in the past and work together as a team,” said Lewis.
The Red Foxes would flip the score around the second set, defeating the Stags 25-22. Marist’s hitters were simply on fire, swinging for a whopping 17 kills on a .318 hitting percentage.
The third set provided an intense back and forth battle, with neither team leading by more than three points for the entire set. Marist reached set point first, and hoped to take a 2-1 lead into the fourth set. Fairfield had other plans, scoring three straight to win the set and stunned Marist.
Fairfield started hot in the fourth on a 4-1 lead. When Marist could have rolled over and let the set get away from them, they rallied back just as they did in the second set. The Red Foxes would tie the score at 11, then trade points with Fairfield for nearly the rest of the set.
After cutting Farfield’s lead to 17-16, neither team would lead by more than a point until the sets end. Newblatt delivered two straight kills, giving Marist a 26-24 victory to push the match to a decisive set five.
Marist only served two aces in the first three sets, but delivered four in the fourth, while Fairfield only had one.
The Red Foxes would record one more ace in the fifth, courtesy of Katherine Thompson. Just like the first four sets, the fifth set was a thrilling back and forth. Clinging to just a 12-11 lead, Thompson delivered a game-changing ace, forcing a timeout from Fairfield head coach Nancy Somera. Marist would ultimately hold on for a 15-12 victory.
Byron had high praise for Thompson, whom he had replaced at libero for Potter-Pessoa.
“KT [Thompson] came in and passed a great number in a limited role. She could have very easily folded… she was great, she worked hard, passed well, and served an ace there late in the game,” said Byron.
Thompson took the move from libero to defensive specialist in stride, digging eight balls and assisting on one kill in addition to her huge ace.
Going forward, it remains to be seen what Byron will do with the libero position.
“We’re going to continue to let them get opportunities to compete, and that’s a good situation for me,” said Byron.
Byron was a hero from the sidelines for the Red Foxes, who overturned countless calls with his challenge card.
“We’ve asked the players to be honest… a lot of the time we don’t see it,” said Byron, giving the credit to his players.
10 sets played in just two days has undoubtedly taken a toll on the Red Foxes, who do not play again until next Saturday, at St. Peters at 1 p.m.
“Two games with five sets in a row is hard, but we’ll have this week to rest so we’re ready for next weekend,” said Lewis.
The rest was well earned. In a “prove it” weekend, Marist did just that, showing that they belong at the top of the MAAC.
Edited By Dan Aulbach
Photo Credit: Kira Crutcher