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2014 Marquette Volleyball Preview: The Returning Roster

The season opens on Friday in Colorado, so let's spend some time this week looking at what new head coach Ryan Theis has at his disposal.

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For simplicity's sake, we're going to divide the team into two groups: Defensive Specialists and Everyone Else.  We'll start with the latter group...

Everyone Else

I don't know if we can have a discussion about Marquette's offensive players without starting with Autumn Bailey.  The sophomore from Burlington, Ontario, was named the Big East's preseason Player of the Year last week, and for good reason.  Not only was she one of two players to average more than four kills per set last year, but she also chipped in on the defensive side with three digs/set, too.  Her powerful righty attack also gives her a nasty serve, as she finished second on the team and tied for third in the conference in service aces.

Bailey is joined on the outside by fellow sophomore Nele Barber and junior Erin Lehman.  Barber took a while to break into the lineup last season, but when she did, she provided MU with firepower by the bucket.  She finished second on the team in kills/set while hitting just a shade under .300.  Lehman was a featured player in 2012, picking up 20 starts in 34 appearances, but in 2013, she only saw action in 44 sets in 19 contests.  Her playing time may have been down, but her accuracy was up, improving her hitting percentage from .188 to .215.

Marquette's lone returning right side hitter is senior Lindsey Gosh.  It's kind of funny to consider her as a right side hitter as she's left-handed, but there you go.  Gosh has been one of the best developing players under former coach Bond Shymansky.  While she made just 9 appearances in her freshman year, she was installed as a starter from day one sophomore year and only didn't start all of MU's matches last season due to a minor injury keeping her in reserve for one match.  She had a power game from the get go, but has refined her accuracy, improving her hitting percentage from .198 in 2012 to .297 last season.  Her leaping lefty serve was always strong, but it became imposing in 2013 when she led the Big East in service aces.

Coach Theis has an interesting crew of middle hitters at his disposal.  Redshirt sophomore Meghan Niemann was a unanimous selection to the Big East's preseason all-conference team along with Bailey and Gosh.  She finished 2013 with the third best kills average on the team and the third best hitting percentage in the Big East, too.  Marquette wasn't a particularly adept blocking team in 2013 (7th best in the Big East), but things on that front improved when sophomore Teal Schnurr took redshirt sophomore Jackie Kocken's spot in the rotation.  Schnurr cracked the lineup for the last 16 matches of the season and ended up matching her kills average right with her blocks average at 1.14 each per set.  Had Schnurr played more in 2013, that blocks average would have ranked her 7th best in the Big East.  It remains to be seen how Theis will deploy either player, but with Schnurr at 6'4" and Kocken at 6'5", let's just say he's got options.

With the departure of 2013 Big East Player of the Year Elizabeth Koberstein, redshirt sophomore Mary Nilles is the only returning setter on the roster, and I only realized that she was a redshirt sophomore just now.  There's a lesson for you burgeoning coaches out there: Let your best player stay on the floor at all times, as Nilles didn't replace Koberstein for even a moment in 2013.  I don't know if Nilles will be the choice to start for MU this season (more on that when we talk about the newcomers), but she only has five total collegiate appearances because she was playing behind Koberstein.  Nilles was an all-state performer her junior and senior years at Batavia (IL), where she finished 2nd all time in blocks, as well as fourth all time in aces and assists.

Defensive Specialists

This is going to be a much shorter section, which is why I held it off for down here.  MU has just two returning defensive specialists following the end of the careers of Julie Jeziorowski, Cat Mayer, and Rachel Stier.  One is Ellie Rauch, a junior from Dubuque, Iowa, and the other is Lauren Houg, a native of Plymouth, MN, who is entering her second year with the Golden Eagles.

If Bond Shymansky had remained at Marquette instead of going home to Iowa, I would be willing to bet large sums of money that Rauch would be the libero in 2014.  Rauch started all 32 matches in 2013 at DS, averaging 2.38 digs per set and a quietly pretty great 0.14 aces/set.  With the hiring of Coach Theis, things have changed slightly with the arrival of Ellen Hays, but it's still a very safe bet that we'll see lots of Rauch on the floor this season.

Houg is a different story.  She appeared in seven sets in five matches for MU in 2013, and generally didn't appear to be acclimated to the college game when she was in the game.  The team held an open scrimmage this past Saturday afternoon and noted friend of the show Patrick Leary reports that Houg was one of the liberos to start play, while Rauch was not.  Eventually, Rauch would put the gold jersey on for the intra-team competition, but this is an indication to me that Rauch might be closer to earning time on the floor as a DS on a regular basis while Houg might be looking at spending time as Hays' back up at libero.  With just four defensive specialists on the roster in total, Marquette may need contributions from all of them by the end of the season.