A Slightly Familiar Face
Marquette has one redshirt freshman on the roster in defensive specialist Nicki Barnes. She appeared in one match last year, but missed the rest of the season due to injury and earned a medical redshirt for the season. Now she's one of four defenders on the roster, and listed at 5'10", the same height as 2014 Big East Preseason Player of the Year Autumn Bailey, not your typical defensive specialist. It probably isn't a surprise to you to find out that she led Benet (IL) Academy to a 40-2 record and a top 15 national ranking her senior year as an outside hitter.
But for now, especially with Marquette's loaded group of hitters, she's looking to earn time on defense. If Coach Theis' plans for a rotation is at all similar to Bond Shymansky's, there's going to be space for Barnes to play. Last year, Marquette mostly used Ellie Rauch on defense with Julie Jeziorowski at libero, with Cat Mayer and Rachel Stier subbing in as needed. The latter three in that sentence are gone now, leaving space for Barnes to find a way onto the court along with Ellen Hays, and Lauren Houg.
Joining Marquette this season after experience at another school are defensive specialist Ellen Hays and middle hitter Courtney Kintzel. Both women provide an aspect that Marquette lacked heading into this season, with Hays playing every match at libero as a freshman for Toledo and Kintzel averaging more blocks than any MU player while playing for Northern Iowa.
Under Shymansky, Marquette was never a strong blocking team, but in 2013, Theis' Ohio squad was one of the 30 best blocking squads in the country. That combination should give Kintzel a chance to work herself into the rotation behind Big East preseason all-conference unanimous selection Meghan Niemann, but with Schnurr already there and the 6'5" Jackie Kocken, it's an experienced group to compete with.
Hays, on the other hand, figures to play early and often. It's unclear as to who will pull on the gold libero jersey tomorrow in Colorado. If Shymansky was still the coach, I would say it would be Rauch, without a doubt. But Theis is in charge, and he's familiar with Hays from the time they spent together in the Mid-American Conference. In addition, Hays has experience with the vagaries of the rules regarding the libero position after a full season at Toledo, while Rauch never played at libero in her two seasons at Marquette. Regardless of that, though, both Rauch and Hays will be key components for Marquette this season, regardless of who wears blue and who wears gold.
There are three freshmen on the Marquette roster this season. The most notable one right off the bat will be Gabby Benda. Quite simply, her path to the court is the easiest. Benda is a setter from Raleigh, North Carolina, where she led Wakefield High School not only as captain for her final two years, but also to the school's first Class AAAA state title in her senior year. Benda averaged 10.50 assists per set her senior year, earning conference co-player of the year honors and landing herself in the Honorable Mention category of Under Armour's All-American list. All of that past history puts her neck and neck with redshirt sophomore Mary Nilles for the starting setter position, and even Theis doesn't know who's going to come out ahead.
"Mary and Gabby have gone back and forth and we are looking for who can set the most hittable balls and who can get hitters in the best position. It might be a 6-2 offense or a 5-1 with one setter or the other. The season will have its ebbs and flows with that process. You will see both of them this fall at some point, I can guarantee that."
Also joining the team as freshmen are outside hitter Taylor Louis and middle hitter Jenna Rosenthal. Louis is a multidimensional player, breaking Niles (IL) North High's record for career kills and kills in a season, but also finishing fifth all time in digs and seventh in blocks. NNHS won conference titles each of Louis' last two seasons and she was named conference player of the year her senior year. Unfortunately for her, she's recovering from a preseason injury and Marquette is deep as all get out on the outsides.
Rosenthal is even further from the court, as she's being considered for a redshirt in 2014. She's 6'5", though, and if Theis is going to have a focus on blocks, it's hard to turn down that kind of size. She left Fond Du Lac (WI) High School as the school's all time leader in blocks, and she only earned two varsity letters in volleyball. Rosenthal also set the single season record for blocks and kills, and that .422 hitting percentage in her senior season definitely helped towards the latter. Fun Fact: Due to her academic focus in high school, Rosenthal enters Marquette with sophomore academic standing in the College of Engineering as a civil engineering major.