Despite losing the first set, Niagara outplayed Marist in the following three sets, halting their prominent win streak at seven.
The Red Foxes were without junior setter Claire Lewis today, who was injured in yesterday’s contest against Canisius. Freshman setter Kaitlyn Owens was solid in her place, helping three Marist hitters record double-digit kills.
Marist took the first set somewhat convincingly, and it appeared they were on their way to yet another victory to retain their first place position in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Early on in the set, both sides took turns going on lengthy runs. First it was Marist, with middle hitter Vanessa Zolg at the service line, who scored four straight to take a 7-5 lead. Zolg then missed a serve, and Niagara took over. They scored six straight, giving the Purple Eagles a commanding 11-7 lead. Marist would inch their way back into it and eventually tie the score at 16.
Down the stretch, redshirt junior Gabriella Heimbauer took control. Following a Niagara timeout with Marist leading 22-20, she swung for a clutch kill to bring Marist within two points of a set one victory. On the ensuing point, she took another big swing, but was stuffed. The deflection off the block went right to her, and instead of setting back up the offense, she attacked once more. She saw an opening in the back right corner of Niagara’s side of the court, and pushed the ball there. It fell untouched, putting Marist at set point. Two points later, Marist took the first set on a missed serve from Niagara sophomore setter Kylie Blessing.
Marist’s pin hitters were strong in the first set, swinging for a total of 13 kills. They tried to take this end of set momentum with them, but were unsuccessful.
Marist never held a lead in the second set, and after Niagara took a 14-10 lead they never looked back. From there, the Purple Eagles were able to keep Marist at bay, never letting the Red Foxes tie the score back up.
Niagara closed out the set 25-20, powered by an extremely effective offensive attack. The Purple Eagles had 16 kills on a .407 hitting percentage. Additionally, they were strong from the service line, highlighted by four aces.
Once again, Niagara put Marist in a hole early, taking five of the first six points. It was more of the same for the rest of the third set, as Marist failed to take a lead for the entirety of a second straight set. Marist couldn’t retaliate, only swinging for a .079 hitting percentage.
The Red Foxes were sloppy on defense as well, allowing many softly hit balls to hit the floor. On the other side, the Purple Eagles were flying around the court, keeping long deflections alive and earning many hard-fought points.
Sitting comfortably at fourth place in the MAAC, this afternoon’s matchup was crucial for Niagara. The matchup against Marist kicks off a gauntlet of an upcoming schedule for Niagara. Next weekend, they travel to Connecticut to face Fairfield and Quinnipiac, then the following weekend they come to Poughkeepsie for another match with Marist. With four games against the top three teams in the MAAC, they have the potential to play their way into the conversation for a top seed in the conference tournament in November.
The Purple Eagles were playing with a clear sense of urgency, and were now one set away from a statement win over Marist.
The fourth and final set of play started out the same as the previous two, with Niagara stretching out a comfortable lead. After an ace off the top of the net from senior outside hitter Lexi Bapst, Marist head coach Sean Byron burned his second timeout of the match, with Marist trailing 17-12. The timeout proved ineffective, as Marist was unable to slow down the Purple Eagles.
Niagara finished the set and match on fire, winning 25-17. With their backs against the wall in a must win set, Marist did not respond well to the challenge, only tallying eight kills on .063 hitting percentage. Led by their high energy, Niagara was dominant on offense, converting on their attacks at a .313 clip.
With both Fairfield and Quinnipiac winning today, Marist’s loss moves them to third place in the MAAC at 9-2. Niagara’s victory puts them at 7-3, not far behind the Red Foxes, who they play in the not too distant future on October 28th.
Before Marist can attempt revenge on Niagara, they have another slate of games on the road next weekend. It starts in New Rochelle, where the Red Foxes will face Iona – who they beat recently in a five set battle – at 1 p.m. next Saturday.