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Marquette Volleyball Loses 2-0 Lead In NCAA Tournament Loss To Illinois State

There's a pattern emerging in MU's NCAA tournament appearances, and I don't care for it.

Autumn Bailey just wrapped up the most prolific offensive season in Marquette history, but it ends without a postseason victory.
Autumn Bailey just wrapped up the most prolific offensive season in Marquette history, but it ends without a postseason victory.

Autumn Bailey posted a career best and 2014 Big East high 32 kills, but Marquette couldn't hang on to a 2-0 lead against Illinois State in the first round of the 2014 NCAA tournament, falling 3-2 (23-25, 19-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-13) in five sets.

After a tightly contested first set, Marquette ran away with the second set on the strength of a 9-1 run that took it from a 9-8 lead to an 18-9 margin on a block by Meghan Niemann and Lindsey Gosh.  It seemed that the Golden Eagles had solved the riddle of the Redbirds, and they would be able to find a way to advance to the second round of the NCAAs in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history.

After intermission, though, the Redbirds were determined.  Marquette took a lead midway through the set, but ISU rebounded to tie things at 16 on a kill by Jaelyn Keene.  All told, Illinois State turned a 15-12 Marquette lead into a 21-16 lead of their own and were able to fend off a late MU charge to keep themselves alive.  The fourth set was like the first, going back and forth all through the opening stages.  ISU had one 5-0 run in the middle, though, featuring kills from three different Redbirds, and that was all the space they needed to hold on for the 25-22 win to push things to a decisive fifth set.

In the fifth, Marquette made it to the eight point side switch with a lead, and boosted that to a 10-5 margin.  Ok.  Just need to win five out of the next 13 points to hold on. ISU kill. MU attack error.  ISU kill.  ISU block.  MU attack error.  MU attack error.

Now it's 11-10 in favor of the Redbirds, and they're rolling.  Kills from Bailey and Nele Barber got Marquette to re-tie the match at 13, but the next two points were struck to the court by Illinois State's Stacey Niao and Ashley Rosch, and the Redbirds made the full comeback from the brink of elimination to advance to the second round.

Marquette got strong efforts from their supporting cast.  Barber and Niemann both recorded 12 kills in the match, and as a team, Marquette outhit Illinois State, .199 to .174.  Mary Nilles and Gabby Benda teamed up to record 63 assists, and four Golden Eagles recorded double digit digs, led by a team high 25 from libero Lauren Houg.

ISU was led by a career high 19 kills from Keene, and overall, they had four players break into double digits in kills.  Missouri Valley Player of the Year Kaitlyn Early had 52 assists to charge the ISU offense, and she added eight kills and 22 digs.  All told, five Redbirds had at least 12 digs in the match, led by MVC Libero of the Year Emily Orrick with a match high 29.  Illinois State will take on #2 seeded Wisconsin, who swept Western Michigan in the other first round match at the UW Field House on Thursday night.

Bailey ends the 2014 season with a program record 576 kills, moving her into 11th place all time with 1,059 kills.  In addition, Meghan Niemann's nine blocks against the Redbirds gave her Marquette's all-time single season record with an even 150 stuffs in 2014.

This brings us to the saddest part of the recap: The realization that there is no "Up Next" for this team this year, and that there is no "Up Next" for collegiate volleyball for both Lindsey Gosh and Courtney Kintzel.  With her appearance in all five sets against ISU, Gosh became the first Marquette volleyball player to be a part of four NCAA tournament teams.  With her booming lefty attack and serve, she was a key cog in Marquette's first ever NCAA win in 2012 as well as the program's first conference regular season and tournament titles a year ago.  Kintzel joined the Marquette squad this year after transferring from Northern Iowa.  It may not have been the season she wanted (she missed 15 matches due to a knee injury), but she rebounded to play a major role for Marquette down the stretch of the conference season.  She was a dominant figure in Marquette's attempted comeback against Seton Hall in the Big East semifinals, leading MU with 19 kills in the match.

To both Lindsey and Courtney, I say THANK YOU on behalf of all Marquette fans.  You had careers of differing lengths in blue and gold, but your efforts have not gone unnoticed.  We all wish you the best of luck in your post-collegiate endeavors.