In Marist volleyball’s 3-1 victory over Niagara, senior outside hitter Sasha van der Merwe became the 10th Red Fox in school history to reach 1,000 career kills.
The Red Foxes came into the day on a three-game skid that began two weekends ago with a 3-1 loss at Niagara, yet were able to turn things around at McCann Arena.
“They beat us in four at their home… we were hoping to sweep them, but this is fine too, we’re very happy with that,” said freshman outside hitter Emi Yakushev.
Niagara came into this afternoon’s action having gone 2-1 in their last three games. In addition to their win against Marist, the Purple Eagles beat another top team in the MAAC conference when they swept Quinnipiac last weekend.
Niagara sat just a half-game back of Marist for third in the MAAC, and a win today would have put them ahead of the Red Foxes. Marist had other plans.
van der Merwe tallied 18 kills in the match, with the most notable being her fourth one on the day. Entering play with 996 kills, van der Merwe’s fourth kill of the first set brought her career count to four digits.
“It’s crazy to think that I’ve been here that long and I was just thinking about the first kill versus the thousandth kill, it really just reminded me how grateful I am to be here,” said van der Merwe.
Also with 18 kills on the day was Emi Yakushev, who made her debut at McCann Arena. Yakushev was a key cog in the Marist offense in non-conference play but had missed the past month and a half due to injury. She returned last Sunday against Manhattan, appearing in only two sets.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I know how to do so I can support the team,” said Yakushev
Yakushev dominated the first set and remained a force for the rest of the game. Her 18 kills are the most she has recorded in her young career.
Another addition to the Red Fox offense was junior setter Claire Lewis. Lewis played last weekend but was not feeling 100% according to head coach Sean Byron as she nursed an injured ankle, which had kept her out of Marist’s first matchup with Niagara.
“As long as she can stay in rhythm and we can stay in rhythm, I like where we’re at,” said Byron.
Lewis played more like herself today, finishing with 47 assists and 14 digs.
Marist brought the energy early in the first set, jumping out to a 9-3 lead. Niagara battled back but was unable to tie or take the lead. The Purple Eagles brought the deficit down to one point just once at 12-11, but the Red Foxes embarked on an 8-1 run to distance themselves from Niagara.
The Purple Eagles then reeled off four straight points, but a smooth kill from Yakushev stopped the bleeding. On top of their strong offense in the first, highlighted by an effective .325 hitting percentage, the Red Fox defense was stifling, picking up plenty of balls that looked to be bound for the floor.
Only up three points at 23-20, a swing from senior outside hitter Jordan Newblatt was stuffed at the net, but there for the coverage was freshman libero Katherine Thompson with a save. Lewis set Newblatt again, and she delivered a deep cross-court kill. The Red Foxes closed out the set on the ensuing point, winning it 25-20 to take a 1-0 lead.
The second set saw a similar offensive output from both sides of the court. Marist stayed consistent on offense, recording 17 kills on a .343 hitting percentage. Niagara struggled on their attacks once again, hitting .071 in the second, after swinging for a .125 percentage in the first.
It was a six-point run with redshirt sophomore outside hitter Sally Tietjen at the service line that really gave Marist some breathing room late in the set. From there, the Red Foxes finished the job, winning the second set 25-19.
Marist was on their way to another set victory, holding control for most of the third set. Leading 20-15, the Red Foxes were just five points away from pulling off a convincing three-set sweep over the Purple Eagles.
Niagara did not go down without a fight, as they brought themselves back into the set. With Marist clinging to a 23-21 lead, Niagara junior middle hitter Laryssa Imbuzeiro ripped a set out of bounds, putting Marist at match point. With nothing to lose, Niagara head coach Ren Cefra held up his challenge card, asking to review if the ball was in.
The call was ultimately overturned. Byron was furious, and the Red Foxes did not record a point for the rest of the set. Niagara scored the next three, winning the set 25-23.
Using their late set collapse as motivation, Marist came out firing on all cylinders in the fourth set. Defense led the way in the fourth for the Red Foxes, powered by junior middle blocker Alyssa White and Katherine Thompson.
White was dominant at the net, acting as a driving factor to a Marist defense that held Niagara to a -.051 hitting percentage in the set. Her defensive display was highlighted by two solo blocks that sent the Marist side into a frenzy.
Thompson, who finished the day with 16 digs, played her best in the game’s final set. She put an exclamation point on her day in the match’s final point. Thompson made a sliding one-arm dig on a Niagara attack, allowing Lewis to set Newblatt, who ended the match with a kill.
“She’s been grinding, she’s been getting extra reps, she had some crazy digs that set,” said van der Merwe.
Now having officially clinched a spot in the MAAC tournament, which begins in a few weeks, Marist still has its work cut out. The team will attempt to earn one of the first-round byes that go to the top two teams in the conference. Their next opportunity to do so is at home tomorrow, against Canisius at 1 p.m.
Edited by Luke Sassa
Graphic by Cara Lacey; Photo via Marist Athletics