Here's the dirty secret of the New Big East: Marquette kind of needs the three new teams to be good at volleyball. MU has reeled off 15 consecutive wins against the other five teams staying in the Big East (yes, five, Providence plays in the America East conference), with the last loss coming at Georgetown in five sets on September 26, 2010. The Golden Eagles haven't dropped a home match to another member of The Seven since October 2, 2009, when they lost 3-2 to Seton Hall.
With Marquette coming off two straight seasons in the NCAA tournament, they need a conference schedule that's going to help keep them going back to the NCAA tournament, and right now, it seems like the other Big East teams aren't going to be that helpful, at least for now. Luckily, two of the three new squads seem like they'll be capable of boosting the conference's overall profile.
Let's see what how the three teams did last year.
2012 Record: 17-12 (7-7 Atlantic 10)
2012 Kills Leader: Junior Maggie Harbison (2.82/set)
2012 Assists Leader: Junior Morgan Peterson (9.6/set)
2012 Digs Leader: Sophomore Brooke Ruffolo (3.76/set)
So, here's the good news: Butler made the Atlantic 10 conference tournament. The bad news is that they got turfed in the first round by VCU and they had to win their last five regular season matches and still needed a bit of assistance from Duquesne on the last day of the regular season to snag the last of the six spots in the A10 tournament.
The Bulldogs were left out of the end of season awards, and their one match appearance in the A10 tournament wasn't enough to get anyone on the All Tournament team. However, two Butler players did earn Defensive Player Of The Week awards. Junior Claire Randich (1.19 blocks/set, 4th in the A10) and sophomore Erica Stahl (1.49 blocks/set, 2nd in the A10) were both recognized for their efforts in stopping the opponent's attack.
Butler loses just one senior from last year's squad, outside hitter Rachel Barber. She only played in 85 of the 106 sets that the Bulldogs played in 2012, but she did finish with the third best kills per set average on the team. Junior setter Morgan Peterson finished seventh in the A10 in assists last year at 9.6/set, a far cry from the 11.64 that Marquette's Elizabeth Koberstein posted in 2012.
2012 Record: 29-4 (17-1 Missouri Valley)
2012 Kills Leader: Sophomore Leah McNary (3.03/set)
2012 Assists Leader: Senior Megan Bober (9.69/set)
2012 Digs Leader: Freshman Kate Elman (4.98/set)
Well, well, well, if it isn't our old enemy, the Creighton Bluejays. You see the picture up top? That's from the 2012 NCAA tournament, where Creighton defeated Marquette in the first round in straight sets, 25-22, 25-23, 28-26. The Jays' attack was led by 14 kills from 2012 All-Missouri Valley second teamer Leah McNary and 12 kills from MVC Defensive Player Of The Year Kelli Browning, both of whom were sophomores. CU got 41 assists and 12 digs from 2012 MVC Player Of The Year (and senior, thank goodness) Megan Bober, while Creighton's two All-Freshman team players, Kate Elman and Melanie Jereb had 14 and 15 digs respectively. Oh, and Jereb was named to the All-MVC First Team along with Bober and Browning.
Yeah, Creighton's really good. I mean, can we discuss Browning, the MVC's Defensive Player Of The Year, also having the second best hitting percentage in the conference? SHEESH. The win against Marquette was the Bluejays' 17th straight W, and they only got pushed to five sets three times. Heck, the Big East is so aware that Creighton is immediately a premiere team in this league, they've already awarded them the 2013 conference tournament.
Yes, they lose Bober, and replacing the league's player of the year as you change leagues is never a picnic, and yes, they lose starter Heather Thorson off their front line and regular rotation player Brooke Boggs off their back line. But they have that great core that led them against Marquette coming back and even worse, they will have no seniors, so they are going to probably be even better in 2014. There is always the chance that they maxed out their talent in 2012, but you really don't expect that Kirsten Bernal-Booth, the MVC Coach Of The Year, is going to rest on her laurels, do you?
2012 Record: 21-11 (11-3 Atlantic 10)
2012 Kills Leader: Junior Sarah Brown (3.31/set)
2012 Assists Leader: Sophomore Aubree Smith (9.69/set)
2012 Digs Leader: Senior Stephanie Vorherr (4.85/set)
Any time that you start digging into how a team performed last season, this is a phrase you like to see written about a senior:
[Libero Stephanie] Vorherr essentially rewrote the record books while at Xavier.
Vorherr was Atlantic 10 Libero of the Year three times (her first three years, but not her senior year, proving that A10 coaches are heartless bastards), and holds the Musketeer records for career digs and single game digs, four of the top five season totals in digs, and nine of the 15 best single game digs totals in school history. Vorherr played in 115 of Xavier's 118 sets last year. Where'd she miss three sets? Well, I'm glad you asked.
For some reason, the greatest libero in Xavier volleyball history was held out of last year's match against Marquette.
Do I think that head coach Mike Johnson knew that the Musketeers would bow before the offensive firepower of the Golden Eagles in three sets and didn't want to expose his star defender to that kind of destruction? MAYBE.
Even with the loss of Vorherr, All-A10 second teamer Ame White, and regular rotation defender Kaleigh Rougraff to graduation, Xavier still returns a strong core of players from a team that won 20 games for the fourth straight year. A discussion of returning players has to start with the Smith sisters. Junior middle blocker Alex was named to the All-A10 First Team for the second straight season, even though the only stat where she showed up in the top 10 in the league was hitting percentage (2nd, .373), while sophomore setter Aubree made the All-A10 Second Team and the A10 All Tournament Team. Aubree's done some damage of her own to the Musketeer record book, as she already sits ninth all-time in assists after just two seasons.
Even though she led the team in kills, I still haven't managed to get around to Xavier's A10 leading fifth all conference honoree, junior outside hitter Sarah Brown. She finished seventh in the conference in kills/set (3.31) and eight in aces/set (0.28) to pick up a second team all conference spot. We also haven't mentioned sophomore middle blocker Alex Blair. She missed an early chunk of the 2012 season to injury, but rallied to end up on the A10 All Tournament team after averaging 9.5 kills and 6.5 blocks (!) in Xavier's two matches.