Marist ended their MAAC Conference schedule the same way they started it, with a 3-0 win over Siena, but this win will be remembered for much more than its final score.
Senior outside hitter Jordan Newblatt entered play at 988 career kills, and her 13 successful attacks today make her the latest addition to Marist’s 1,000 kill club. She joins ten other Red Foxes, most recently her teammate, senior outside hitter Sasha van der Merwe, who broke four digits just two weeks ago in a win over Niagara.
van der Merwe went full tilt for 21 kills of her own this afternoon, 17 coming in the first two sets of action. Newblatt and van der Merwe’s combined 34 kills propelled junior setter Claire Lewis to 40 assists in the match, helping Lewis reach a milestone of her own.
Lewis entered play today with 963 assists in her two seasons at Marist, with the 40 she recorded today putting her into four digits in her career as a Red Fox.
Head coach Sean Byron used this final regular season game against Siena—who finished their season at 2-26—as a way to get everyone involved.
Redshirt freshman middle hitter Mikayla Keefer saw an uptick in playing time, holding down one of the two middle hitter positions in the final two sets, recording two kills.
Freshmen middle blocker Trinity Woods and libero Claudia Kasperski also played a heightened role, with Woods recording a kill and Kasperski scoring an ace and assist, both the first of her career.
It was senior day for Siena, and the Saints rode the energy that came with it to an early lead in the first set. Before the game, setter Meghan Johnsson, middle blocker Monet Latunde and outside hitter Anny Montano were honored. The Saints brought the momentum early in the set, leading by as many as three points.
Marist took their first lead of the set at 13-12 and never looked back. Despite Siena tying the game up a few times in the next handful of points, they never regained a lead in the set. The Red Foxes controlled the second half of the set, winning it 25-19.
van der Merwe caught fire early, tallying half of Marist’s 12 kills in the set. Lewis fed the senior captain a healthy amount of sets for both back and front row attacks, and Siena had no answer.
This proved to be a sign of what came next, as van der Merwe dominated the ensuing set. She added 11 more kills, leaving her at an impressive 17 in only two sets played. Siena could not slow down the Marist attack, no matter the hitter. As a team, the Red Foxes swung for a stunning .469 hitting percentage in the set.
Siena won the first point of the set, but the Red Foxes scored the next six. The Saints rallied, getting within a point at 9-8, but Marist rattled off five straight points to take back control of the set, and never gave it up. The Red Foxes cruised to a 25-17 win, taking a commanding 2-0 lead.
The third set provided another all-around strong showcase from the Red Foxes, who converted kills at a .343 clip and limited Siena to a below-average .162 mark. The highlight play of the match came while Marist held a 16-11 lead, with Newblatt at 999 kills in her career, and Lewis with 999 assists as a Red Fox.
On this swing from Newblatt, both she and Lewis joined their own 1,000 clubs. For Newblatt, she became the 11th Red Fox to reach four digits in kills..
Lewis spent her freshman year at Georgia State, where she recorded over 500 assists, and the majority of last season backing up McKinley Fox. Of her now 1,003 assists at Marist, 865 of them came in just this season, one in which she missed six matches due to injury.
From there, the Red Foxes put the finishing touches on the sweep of Siena, winning the third set 25-18.
As Marist took care of business against Siena, Niagara did the same against Manhattan. The Purple Eagles remain a half-game behind the Red Foxes, with one game left to play against Iona tomorrow. A win over the Gaels locks Niagara in a tie for the third seed with Marist.
According to the latest MAAC tiebreaker rule, it would take three tiebreakers to determine who finishes in third, showcasing just how tight of a race it is between these two teams. The first comes down to head-to-head record, but the season series has been split. Next, the tiebreaker is decided by which team has won more sets against their opponent, but once again it is an even split, as each team defeated the other by a score of 3-1.
The third and final tiebreaker ultimately gives us our answer: head-to-head points. Marist holds the advantage—by a one point margin. In their two matches against each other, the Red Foxes won 178 total points, the Purple Eagles winning 177.
This only comes into play if Niagara beats Iona tomorrow, a team that is also playing for postseason seeding of their own. This means that with today’s win, Marist did in fact clinch the third seed.
Marist’s run at their first MAAC title and NCAA tournament berth that comes with it begins next Friday at the Leo D. Mahoney Arena in Fairfield, where their opponent and game time yet to be announced.
Edited by Dan Aulbach
Graphic by Ben Monrad; Photo via Jaylen Rizzo