In their third straight home game to go the distance, Marist escaped with a hard-fought victory over Iona in the final stages of the match.
McCann Arena would end up admitting a recorded 1306 fans according to Marist Athletics, breaking the previous MAAC record as part of a “break the record” campaign. The fans brought energy throughout the game, helping energize the team in some key spots.
Senior outside hitter Jordan Newblatt led the attack effort for the Red Foxes with 22 kills. Senior and redshirt junior outside hitter’s Sasha van der Merwe and Gabriella Heimbauer followed suit, both recording over 15 kills.
Once again, junior setter Claire Lewis quarterbacked the offense in the five-set marathon. Lewis came just five assists short of tying her career high of 62, which she set at Marist’s last home game against Fairfield.
Defense is where the Red Foxes shined; on top of her 22 kills, Newblatt finished with 20 digs, her first 20/20 game since 2021. Lewis, van der Merwe, redshirt sophomore Sally Tietjen and graduate student libero Lillian Thomas all chipped in double digit digs as well.
It was a special night for Thomas, who is in her first year at Marist after spending the previous two years at Iona. Thomas got the nod at libero tonight, and her performance adds her name to the battle for the starting job going forward.
“It was a good opportunity for Lillian; it’s where she played, she got to play against some of her teammates,” said head coach Sean Byron.
To start the first set, the Red Foxes were seemingly on edge. The fans in attendance brought the energy, and Marist may have been trying to do too much, leading to some unforced errors.
“I thought that we just panicked a little bit,” said Byron.
Iona took an early 4-1 lead and held control for the majority of the set. At the media timeout, Marist still trailed 15-12, hitting for a measly -.048 hit percentage.
Despite tying the score a few times, Marist would not take their first lead until 18-17, where they took off. Another Marist point forced an Iona timeout, which proved ineffective. The Red Foxes won three points in a row, leading to yet another Gaels timeout after their previous one did not result in a point won.
From there on, Marist finished the job, taking a 25-21 victory in the first set. Their early set struggles were wiped away by a strong finish, and the Red Foxes would stay hot heading into the following set.
That they did, putting on an utterly dominant performance. In the blink of an eye, Marist led 10-2 and Iona head coach Andy Mueller used both of the Gaels timeouts, matching the number of points they had in the set. Of Marist’s first 10 points, Newblatt accounted for four points on three kills and a solo block, doubling what Iona currently had on the board.
Marist kept the pressure on, never letting Iona creep back into the game. Junior middle hitter Alyssa White ultimately capped off the set with a solo block followed by a kill. Marist’s 25-11 win was their largest margin of victory on the season.
The Gaels did not go down without a fight. In a must-win set, the Gaels brought the intensity from the first point. Iona held a 7-2 lead, but Marist followed with a solid run of their own, tying the game at eight.
From there on out, the set became a thrilling back and forth. Iona would hold the largest advantage at 23-20 on three blocks in a four point span. The front row of sophomore outside hitter Mackenzie Wiggins, senior right side hitter Morgan Madasz, and middle blocker Jen Soto played great down the stretch, stifling the Red Fox offense.
Marist responded with a four point run, powered by freshman setter Kaitlyn Owens at the service line and a huge block by White that put Marist at match point. Iona fought off defeat and tied the score at 24, where senior setter Tamara Pichardo would nail back to back aces to stun the Marist crowd and force a fourth set.
There, it was a continuation of the fourth set, as neither team created distance. Iona put themselves in position to succeed, holding a 21-17 advantage and forcing Byron to use his last timeout.
Not even the stops in play could slow down Iona, who rolled to a 25-20 victory, forcing a decisive fifth set. Iona’s resilient comeback was led by senior 2022 MAAC libero of the year Hope Matschner, who ended the night with 29 digs. She entered tonight’s contest leading the MAAC in digs/set with 6.59, in addition to being named MAAC libero of the week. Her stellar defense was contagious, as the rest of Iona’s back row kept nearly every ball alive.
The fifth and final set from an already wildly entertaining match did not disappoint. Iona held control for the majority of the set, but the Red Foxes hung around. With their backs against the wall, trailing 13-10, Marist scored three straight, culminating with a block from Newblatt on an attempted setter dump. There, the two sides traded points before Newblatt put her final mark on the match.
“You gotta go out swinging, and I’d rather hit it as hard as I can and miss than wimp out,” said Newblatt.
Newblatt gave two of her best swings of the night, both being missiles off the top of Iona’s block. The Gaels were unable to corral the long deflections on either ball, and Marist escaped with a 16-14 victory.
In a match that can best be described as madness, the Red Foxes avoided the disaster of a second reverse sweep of the season. At the end of the day, a win is a win, just what Marist needed as they look to contend for a first round bye in the MAAC tournament in November.
Marist once again has a quick turnaround, as they face Manhattan College tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. at McCann Arena, where they look to stretch their current win streak to a season high of five games.
Edited By Dan Aulbach
Photo Credit: Jaylen Rizzo