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2014 NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament Preview: Marquette vs Illinois State

The Golden Eagles are in Madison to take on the Redbirds this evening in the first round of this year's national championship.

Ok, that's the Louisville mascot, but only because I can't find any pictures of Illinois State's mascot. That's a red bird, so that counts, I hope.
Ok, that's the Louisville mascot, but only because I can't find any pictures of Illinois State's mascot. That's a red bird, so that counts, I hope.
Paul Halfacre-USA TODAY Sports

For the fourth consecutive season, Marquette Volleyball is in the NCAA tournament.  It's also the first four NCAA tournament appearances in program history, and the first one under head coach Ryan Theis.

The Golden Eagles finished 24-8 this season, with a record of 14-4 in Big East matches.  Sophomore outside hitter Autumn Bailey was named the Big East's Player of the Year, and Bailey was joined on the all-Big East First Team by two teammates: middle hitter Meghan Niemann and fellow outside hitter Lindsey Gosh.  With the first point that Gosh plays in this match, she'll become the first Golden Eagles player to appear in four NCAA tournaments, but I'm guessing you figured that one out already.  Bailey ranks in the top seven in the country in both kills and points per set.  Bailey gets a boost to her points as a result of leading the Big East in service aces this season.

Marquette reached the Big East tournament semifinals for the fifth consecutive season this year, but fell in five sets to Seton Hall.  The Pirates were the second place team in the conference and had to go to five sets after taking a 2-0 lead on the Golden Eagles last Friday night.  SHU ultimately lost to Creighton in the championship game, but all three teams qualified for the NCAA tournament.

NCAA Tournament Round 1: vs Illinois State (26-5, 18-0 Missouri Valley)

When: Thursday, December 4, 2014, at 5pm Central
Where: UW Field House in Madison, WI
Audio/Visual: The Badgers will be streaming video for free, and Marquette Radio will be on the scene for streaming audio.  The NCAA will provide live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

On first glance, you might be intimidated by ISU's perfect record in Missouri Valley Conference play, including another two wins in their conference tournament to earn the MVC's automatic bid.  But the Redbirds won the regular season title with three matches left on the schedule, and no one else in the league finished with fewer than four losses.  It's possible that Illinois State is the beneficiary of a conference that doesn't quite give them enough of a test in the regular season.

On top of that, they went 6-5 in the non-conference schedule.  They caught breaks with lousy UIC and Columbia teams on the schedule, but when they tangled with bottom half power league teams, the Redbirds struggled.  They suffered losses to Missouri (16-17) and Baylor (14-17), as well as a very good Lipscomb team (21-8) that just qualified for their fourth NCAA tournament appearance in six seasons.  Plus, and this is the most interesting one for Marquette fans, they lost to Xavier, the fourth place team in the Big East.  It was on a neutral floor in Columbia, Missouri, but ISU wasn't able to find a way to overcome a Musketeers team that hit .135 in the match.

As to be expected with an undefeated record, Illinois State is well decorated with awards from the MVC.  Senior setter Kaitlyn Early was named MVC Player of the Year as well as Setter of the Year, while senior libero Emily Orrick was named MVC Libero of the Year for the second consecutive season.  Early led the MVC with 11.18 assists per set this season, while Orrick had the best digs average in the MVC this season, and her 5.77 per set average has her ranked fourth in the country as well.  Early and Orrick were joined on the all-MVC First Team by junior outside hitter Ashley Rosch and freshman middle hitter/defensive specialist Jaelyn Keene, and senior middle hitter Emily Schneider mad the all-conference Second Team.  On top of all of this, head coach Melissa Meyers was named the MVC Coach of the Year, although that's not a surprise after all of those honors for her players.