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Three Questions For Women's Volleyball

We wrap up our preview of the 2014 volleyball season by addressing three questions about the upcoming season.

Can sophomore Autumn Bailey live up to the hype?
Can sophomore Autumn Bailey live up to the hype?

1) Can they repeat?

Had you asked in June, I might have said no.  The loss of Elizabeth Koberstein, the 2013 Big East Player of the Year, as well as the departure of head coach Bond Shymansky to Iowa seemed like a steep hill to climb.  But four of the Big East coaches don't seem to think that's going to derail the Golden Eagles, as they picked Marquette as the favorite in the preseason poll.

Marquette suffered just one loss in conference play last year, which came on their road trip to Creighton.  To find the last time that Marquette lost to a Big East team that's not Creighton, we have to wander all the way back to September 26, 2010, when MU fell in five sets while visiting Georgetown.  I don't expect that streak to last forever, and with a new system under head coach Ryan Theis, it might even end this season.  But for now, the talent level on the Marquette roster is such that MU's chances at a second straight Big East regular season title or a second straight Big East tournament title will depend on how they deal with the Bluejays in their two regular season meetings this season.

2) Can Autumn Bailey actually win Player of the Year in November?

Well, Bailey's the preseason Player of the Year, so I guess anything's possible.  I had Creighton's Kelli Browning as my pick for the best player heading into the season, and given that Browning's a senior, she might have an advantage at the end of the season, too.  If Marquette figures out a way to edge out the Bluejays for a regular season title, I would have to figure that would work to Bailey's advantage.

One thing we also have to consider is how Coach Theis is going to deploy Bailey.  We can probably count on her for roughly the same attack and serving stats as last year.  The difference might come on defense.  As a freshman, Bailey averaged 3.11 digs/set, which was second on the team only to libero Julie Jeziorowski.  If Theis has Bailey playing the same way, then her multidimensional play will help her case.  Browning has blocks going for her (a Big East best 1.53/set in 2013) as well as hitting percentage (6th best in the Big East last year), so Bailey will need to demonstrate an all over the court kind of game to be named the best player in the Big East as a sophomore.

3) Who's going to be the setter?

Sadly, the answer is not Elizabeth Koberstein.  I don't know what game Bisky was playing in 2013, but at times it seemed like she was playing something that wasn't volleyball, based on her abject dominance at the setter spot.  Marquette will turn to either redshirt sophomore Mary Nilles or freshman Gabby Benda to replace Koberstein this season.

Nilles has a slight advantage given her two seasons of the grind of the collegiate volleyball season.  Working against her is not having played a live competitive volleyball match since the fall of 2012, as Koberstein was too good to take off the floor.  Benda's advantage is that she was one of the best players in all of high school volleyball last year, and one of the 21 best setters in the country to boot.  While she might be more skilled, she doesn't have any collegiate experience to speak of, of course.  With that said, three years ago, Chelsea Heier stepped in at setter for Marquette as a freshman and guided the offense to the program's first ever NCAA tournament bid.

Coach Theis still hasn't made a final decision on the topic, telling in their season preview that he expects to use both women on the court early on in the season, so it will be a trial by fire to see who ends up with the full time job.