It was a tale of two matches: literally since Marquette faced off against Villanova on Friday and then Seton Hall on Saturday at the McGuire Center and figuratively as the Wildcats turned out to be a light appetizer to the feast that was the contest between the previously undefeated in conference Pirates and your Golden Eagles.
On Friday Autumn Bailey was coming off a career best performance earlier in the week and Villanova apparently did not do their homework allowing the outside hitter to rack up ten kills in the opening set. The Wildcats managed to pull within one early, but Marquette responded with a 9-1 run and took the set 25-16 easily. The second set proved to be more competitive as the teams essentially traded points until an Ellie Rauch ace made it three in a row for the Golden Eagles. Villanova broke Rauch's serve out a timeout, but momentum had shifted in Marquette's favor. Trailing 13-23, Nova put up some resistance but their own attack error broke up the rally and they held off two set points before a Lindsey Gosh sealed the 25-17 win for the Golden Eagles. After rolling out to a 6-1 start in the third, it looked like Marquette might cruise to the straight set win. But Villanova slowly battled back and tied the set at 18. It made for an interesting ending, but Marquette never surrendered the lead and won 25-23 for the 3-0 win.
Bailey finished the match with 21 kills which was just one less point for Marquette than the attack errors committed by the Villanova offense. The team combined for 10 blocks so it's not entirely surprising that no other Golden Eagle cracked double digits in kills.
The following night Marquette won the first 5 points of the match against Seton Hall forcing an early time out by the Big East leaders. Alas, the next 112 points would not come as easily as the Golden Eagles and Pirates played a record breaking marathon four sets and the best volleyball I've seen played at the McGuire Center.
The Golden Eagles lost the opening set in what could have been a spirit crusher: Marquette led most of the way with Seton Hall increasingly nipping at their heels, but with a 23-20 lead the win was close enough to taste. Instead, the Pirates won the next three to tie it up. The teams then traded points bringing the raucous crowd to the edge of their seats. Eventually a Lauren Houg service error gave Seton Hall the advantage it needed and a Bailey attack went long on the subsequent point giving the Pirates a 34-32 win.
Not much changed in the second with the teams fighting for every point. The Pirates won three straight to go up 10-7, but the Golden Eagles promptly closed the gap. Marquette then flipped the tables on Seton Hall. With both teams at 13, the next Marquette run, a 4-0 streak, proved enough for the win and Seton Hall never got closer than 3 again. Marquette's 25-20 victory tied it up at a set apiece.
Now stop me if this sounds familiar: the third set was a close affair. Once again Marquette found themselves trailing though as the set progressed (although it should be noted that Seton Hall's lead was never bigger than 2). Nele Barber's kill tied at 16 and Marquette took the next two for their first lead of the set. At this point, something unusual happened: after a very unhappy Ryan Theis
shouted at chatted with the assistant referee, the Seton Hall coaching staff was issued a yellow card. As best as we can figure, head coach Allison Yaeger was too close to the court during play (and had already been verbally warned) thus earning a delay sanction.
Of course, the set's ending could not be easy on the nerves: the Pirates tied it back at 20, but Marquette took the next four to reach set point. Seton Hall rallied to win the next 3 forcing a Golden Eagles timeout, but the home team closed it out for the 25-23 win.
Not to be blase, the fourth set was more of the same. By more of the same I mean a close start with insane points with each point played as if it were set point wrapping up with a completely bonkers ending. And second yellow card was issued to Seton Hall: after having spoken earlier with Houg and a Pirates player, the referee had had enough of the chippiness on the court and Pirates libero Tessa Fournier's mouth got her into trouble.
We'll fast forward to Seton Hall being out of timeouts with Marquette leading 23-19. The Pirates would not go quietly into the night and the Golden Eagles burned their two timeouts on consecutive points to no avail. Tied at 23. 24. 25. You get the point. Let's fast forward again lest my blood pressure spike again. Marquette had the advantage at 33-32 after a Teal Schnurr kill and it appeared that they had won it on a Gosh kill, but the instead she was credited with an attack error (my notes for the point: BS). A fired up Gosh decisively claimed the next point and Barber followed it up with another bullet for the 35-33 win.
Bailey finished with 25 kills on a personal and school record 89 kills in a match. Gosh (17) and Barber (16) also had double digit kills while setter Gabby Benda tallied 60 assists and 4 kills. Houg led the defense with 19 digs, but Bailey (18), Rauch (17), and Benda (15) were right on her heels for quite the team effort.
The 117 points won by the teams are the most in a four set match since the NCAA moved to 25 point sets in 2008. The Golden Eagles also played the longest set of this season in the first before topping that feat again in the fourth.
Up next: At Creighton (15-7, 8-1 Big East) on Friday at 7:00 pm Central. The Golden Eagles will be looking to vault themselves into second place and stay just one game back of Seton Hall.