POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. - The Marist volleyball team is set to open their 2012 season this weekend at the Hofstra Asics Tournament. The Red Foxes are looking to build off a strong 2011 campaign where they went 13-15 and 10-8 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), finishing in a tie for fourth place at the end of the season, losing on the third tiebreaker to Canisius for the final playoff spot.
Even though Marist fell just short of the MAAC Tournament in 2011, they were at the top of the MAAC in several statistical categories. They were tied for first with Siena with an average of 1.93 blocks per set. Their .218 team hitting percentage put them in second place behind only conference champion Niagara. Individually, Marisa Gilbert (Pflugerville, Texas) was second in the MAAC with .314 hitting percentage.
LOSS OF FOSS
The Red Foxes will have to overcome the graduation of Joanna Foss (Northville, Mich.), arguably the best volleyball player to put on a Marist uniform. Foss was the only player in Marist history to record 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in her career, accomplishing the feat in last year's season finale. She finished second in program history in career kills (1,400) and third in digs (1,011). In 2011, Foss led the Red Foxes with 322 kills and was third on the team with 245 digs. She was named to the All-MAAC First Team following the season.
The Red Foxes return three starters in junior Grace Hill (Portage, Mich.), senior Hanna Stoiberg (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) and sophomore Gilbert who combined for 648 kills, or just over 51% of Marist's offense. Hill was an All-MAAC Second Team member following her freshman season in 2010 and was second on the team last year with 305 kills. Stoiberg played in all but one match, finishing third on the Red Foxes with 215 kills. Gilbert, who was selected to the inaugural All-MAAC Rookie Team last year after finishing with 128 kills, good for fourth on the team, to go along with her .314 hitting percentage. Additionally, Marist will welcome the return of Mackenzie Stephens (Holland, Mich.) who had her freshman season cut short due to a knee injury. In the 11 matches that she did play in, Stephens racked up 56 kills and was named the MAAC Rookie of the Week in two of the first three weeks. Freshman Courtney Shaw (Centennial, Co.) will contribute immediately as she has earned a spot in the starting rotation as a right-side hitter. Additionally, senior Katie Estes (Saugus, Calif.), who has 288 career kills, and junior Gabriella Lutjen (Smithtown, N.Y.), who missed the entire 2011 season due to a shoulder injury, are two returners that will provide depth at outside hitter along with sophomore Becca Jones (Arlington, Va.) and freshman Kelsey Lahey (Bowling Green, Ohio).
At the setter position, Marist returns both of their primary setters in junior Audra Brady (Allentown, Pa.) and Stoiberg. Brady finished last season with a team-high 543 assists and surpassed the 1,000 assist mark for her career on Nov. 2 at Fairfield. Stoiberg was right behind Brady with 504 assists as the two worked in a two-setter rotation based on offensive alignment. She currently sits at 994 career assists.
The defensive frontcourt is one of the areas where Marist thrived last year, thanks in large part to the play of freshmen Gilbert and Stephens. Before Stephens' injury, she not only led the Red Foxes, but also the MAAC, with 36 total blocks. Gilbert went on to lead the entire team with 88 total blocks, including 14 of the solo variety. She had a 10-block performance at Hartford last season, becoming only the first Marist player since 2000 to reach double digit blocks in a single match. Stoiberg, in addition to her kills and assists, finished second on the Red Foxes with 68 total blocks. Freshman Jemma Fadum (Elbert, Co.) should provide a spark off the bench at middle blocker as well
Sophomore libero Brooke Zywick (Garden City, Mich.) led the team last year with 356 digs, tying for the 10th highest season total in program history. On three occasions she reached 20 digs in a match, including a career-high 23 digs against Niagara on Oct. 8. Hill finished right behind Zywick with 290 digs, leading the team in that stat six times, including a team season-high of 24 digs Oct. 16 at Manhattan. Stoiberg (195) and Brady (151) are the other two returners who recorded at least 100 digs. Sophomore Gena Russo (Rensselaer, N.Y.), who recorded 22 digs while appearing in 26 matches last season, will see valuable playing time as a defensive specialist and in the serve/receive phase.
The Red Foxes, who were picked sixth in the MAAC preseason coaches' poll, open their season Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. versus Providence. On Saturday, they will play tournament-host Hofstra at 12:30 p.m. before finishing the weekend against Fairleigh Dickinson at 5:30 p.m.