In their final home game of the season, Marist volleyball fell to the Canisius Golden Griffins in a pivotal late season matchup, only claiming the second set in a 3-1 loss.
Prior to the start of the match, Marist honored its six seniors: outside hitters Sasha van der Merwe, Jordan Newblatt and Gabriella Heimbauer, middle hitter Vanessa Zolg, right side hitter Anne Mahler, and defensive specialist Kendall O’Brien. Each senior walked out with their family, and received a framed jersey.
“It’s huge having our families here, a lot of us come from far away… so having my family here means a lot, I think it gives us extra motivation to bring that energy,” said Zolg.
With her family making the trip from California, Zolg tied her season high of seven kills on the day.
Preseason MAAC player of the year Van der Merwe entered play with 326 kills on the season and the 25th most in NCAA volleyball. Despite the loss, another standout performance of 19 kills–leading the team today– brings her career number to 1,033, the seventh most in program history.
In the first set, Canisius had a whopping seven aces, highlighted by three straight from junior libero Jillian Hanna. Marist scored four of their own, with Lewis leading the team with two.
Both offenses also caught fire, with each team swinging for a hitting percentage well over .300. Canisius and Marist took turns going on runs, but Marist reached set point first, with a healthy three point lead. There, Canisius stunned the Red Foxes, scoring five straight points to win the set 26-24.
Similarly to their fourth set performance following a blown lead in the previous set yesterday against Niagara, the Red Foxes stretched an early lead that they would not relinquish. Canisius head coach Tom Hanna used both of his two timeouts before his team surpassed two points.
Marist held a 12-2 lead, and despite a few Canisius runs, never came close to losing the lead. Hitting .600 by the first timeout, the Marist offense cooled off, but remained effective. Stout defense that paved the way to a second set victory from there; Middle hitters Zolg and junior Alyssa White stayed active in the block, combining for three blocks and holding the Golden Griffins to a -.114 hitting percentage.
Canisius hung around in the third set, not letting Marist run away with the momentum they built in the previous set. The Golden Griffins eventually took a lead late in the set, led by a strong offensive attack. After being shut down in the third set, Canisius responded in a big way with 18 kills on 38 attempts, with only four errors.
The fourth and final set became a copy of the third, down to the same exact score. Once again, Marist held the lead for the majority of the set before Canisius jumped ahead near the end of the set, and won 25-23. Junior outside hitter Kara Zaucha notched seven of her 19 kills on the day in the decisive fourth set.
Missing from the court in the past two matches has been Gabriella Heimbauer, who is still working her way back to full health.
“That was the plan, she needed time off with her knee because it was sore, we’re giving her a week or so off,” said head coach Sean Byron. “Hopefully Wednesday or Thursday she can work her way back in and we’ll see where she’s at.”
Freshman outside hitter Emi Yakushev took Heimbauer’s place today and put up nine kills, four of them coming in Marist’s only set one of the day. Yakushev proved to be capable of filling in for Heimbauer these past two games, allowing her to heal at her own pace, unrushed.
The Red Foxes have a crucial weekend in Connecticut coming up, where they face the two top teams in the MAAC Conference: Quinnipiac and Fairfield. Marist’s lead over Niagara for the third seed is back down to just a half game, as the Purple Eagles defeated Siena this afternoon.
Canisius’ win goes a long way for their postseason chances. They now sit a half game back of Rider, who has a tough matchup later today with Iona. A Rider loss would insert the Griffs into the sixth seed of the conference tournament where if the season ended today, they would face the Red Foxes once again.
Marist will face Quinnipiac first next Saturday at 1 p.m., then Fairfield 24 hours later. These two matches will be an opportunity to prove whether Marist can still hang with the top of the MAAC after their recent slump.
Edited by Dan Aulbach
Graphic and Photo Credit: Jaylen Rizzo