For Marist volleyball’s Sasha Van Der Merwe, her philosophy is simple yet unrelenting.
“Just hit the ball hard, go after every play,” said Van Der Merwe. “Don’t stop swinging, keep swinging, keep swinging hard. That’s what I live by.”
The six-foot one-inch outside hitter remains locked in as she continues to dominate the competition entering what may be her final season.
Volleyball has always been an important part of her life, as she began playing because her older sister also played. Her sister may not have pursued the sport collegiately, but Van Der Merwe was inspired watching her compete.
“She was a left-handed middle, which is unheard of,” said Van Der Merwe. “I think always just look up to my sisters, and seeing how they played inspired me to play.”
Through the highs and lows, not allowing herself to be swayed by the results is a trick she has tried to master.
“Obviously, [it] doesn’t always go your way,” said Van Der Merwe. “Sometimes swinging hard doesn’t get you where you want to go. But just being reminded and encouraged by your teammates, that you just got to keep swinging because at the end of the day, that’s what going to put points away.”
From a young age, her sisters and coaches told her to never stop swinging hard. Her aggressive style of putting away points with power is what she lives by.
This is certainly been true over the Red Foxes’ first 15 matches, as she has accrued 246 total points and 3.97 points per serve. Most of those points have come off of kills, as she has tallied 218 kills with 3.52 per set.
For the past three years, the Red Foxes have gone into the season with a certified kill-getter in Van Der Merwe. Now in her senior season, she is focused on making the most of her final opportunities with the Red Foxes. She aims to lead by example and bring the most energy out on every point, knowing it could be her last season competing at this level.
“You say you’re going to go all out every year. But I think as a senior it means something different,” said Van Der Merwe. “It feels different. Every game, every point means more than it has in the past.”
As she looks forward to what could potentially be her last season, she has hardware in her sights. For Van Der Merwe, it’s never been about individual accolades, as she prioritizes team success well above her own.
“It’s obviously nice to be recognized, but at the end of the day, it’s the ring that counts,” said Van Der Merwe.
Prioritizing the group over the individual is not possible without trusting teammates. That trust is built as their bonds grow on and off the court. Van Der Merwe recalls practicing with teammates together in the early mornings, even after tough matches, as a demonstration of their dedication.
“When you look afterwards, there were four freshmen who were staying and getting even more reps,” said Van Der Merwe.
Ultimately, she recognizes that her teammates have played a crucial role in her success.
“I think our team relationship is really good this year,” she said. “We all have that want and that drive to push our limits.”
In high-pressure moments, Van Der Merwe relies on her teammates to stay focused. She recalled a close game where a back row player’s reminder to “put it away” before a big swing eased her nerves. Small gestures of confidence like this make a difference. Feedback from defensive specialists is also valuable, whether confirming a good tip or advising a block adjustment.
With her senior season well underway, Van Der Merwe acknowledges uncertainty about what comes next.
“After the season? I honestly don’t know,” she said.
For now, her focus remains on making the most of the present. Matches against Quinnipiac, Rider and Fairfield take on added significance.
So far this season, the Red Foxes beat both Rider in three sets and Fairfield in five sets; they did however fall short to the always-competitive Quinnipiac in five sets.
“Those are always pretty big ones for us. We love playing them too, stiff competition,” she said.
However the next chapter unfolds, Van Der Merwe’s impact on Red Fox volleyball will endure.
Edited by Jimmy Tsiantoulas and Luke Sassa
Graphic by Cara Lacey; Photos via Jaylen Rizzo and Kira Crutcher