Marquette volleyball heads into the 2014 season just on the outside of the AVCA's preseason top 25 rankings. The Golden Eagles, who also finished second in the preseason coaches' poll, ended up with 102 points in the AVCA balloting, just 27 points behind #25 Arizona State.
Sophomore outside hitter Autumn Bailey was named the Big East's preseason Player of the Year and was a unanimous choice to the league's preseason all-conference team. Bailey was one of three Golden Eagles who were unanimous choices, along with right side hitter Lindsey Gosh and middle hitter Meghan Niemann. This also marks the debut of new head coach Ryan Theis, who replaced Bond Shymansky after Shymansky elected to take the same job back at Iowa, his alma mater.
Match #1: vs UC Santa Barbara (0-0)
The Gauchos also picked up votes in the AVCA preseason poll, finishing with 26 points. A win against UCSB would be a fantastic starting point for Coach Theis, but of course, it won't be easy.
UCSB finished third in the Big West preseason balloting, grabbing two first place votes but trailing #17 Hawaii and Long Beach State, who also received votes in the AVCA Top 25. UCSB is coming off an NCAA tournament appearance in 2013 that they earned by way of a tiebreaker in the Big West standings, as the league does not have a conference tournament.
UCSB has their own version of Autumn Bailey in Ali Spindt, who was the Big West Freshman of the Year and all-Big West First Teamer in 2013. She's one of five starters returning for the Gauchos, including fellow First Team outside hitter Ali Barbeau and middle blocker Phoebe Grunt, who was all-Big West Honorable Mention in 2013.
Match #2: vs VCU (0-0)
Regardless of how the UC-Santa Barbara match goes, Marquette will face VCU on Saturday evening. VCU advanced to the Atlantic 10 championship match last season before losing to Duquesne, and since they didn't qualify for the NCAA tournament, they ended their season with a win over Ohio. I mention this for one important reason: The head coach at Ohio at the time was current Marquette head coach Ryan Theis.
VCU was picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic 10 this season by the league's coaches. Yes, the 2013 kills leader is gone, as is the 2013 digs leader. But the Rams return the other three hitters that averaged more than a kill/set, and they return both women who saw time at setter. That seems like a pretty solid recipe for success, given that VCU finished second last year, both in the regular season and the A-10 tournament. Junior outside hitter Kalah Jones is the best killer amongst the returning players, as she averaged just over three per set in 2013.
Match #3: at #18 Colorado State (0-0)
When: Sunday, August 31, 2014, at 2pm Central
Where: Moby Arena in Fort Collins, Colorado
Audio/Visual: FINALLY, live streaming video. Also, streaming radio broadcast! Live stats are over here.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
UCSB was a tournament team last year and is nearly a top 25 team to start the season. VCU couldn't have been that far from the field of 64 in 2013 as the second best team in the Atlantic 10. Definitely two solid teams to start the season, but the truest test for Marquette in the opening weekend will be against the host Rams.
As you can see, they come in as the preseason #18 team in the country, and for good reason. Last season, CSU was the talk of college volleyball, as they opened the season 27-0 and moving as high as #9 in the top 25 before suffering a loss in their second to last regular season game. Their 19-1 record in the Mountain West Conference earned them the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, where the Rams unfortunately met an early demise due to a first round loss to Cal State Northridge.
CSU returns their top three hitters from 2013, including kills leader and now redshirt senior Marlee Reynolds, who averaged 3.06/set last season. Redshirt senior Deedra Foss (11.76 assists/set) is back at setter, as is junior libero Jaime Colaizzi, who averaged 4.08 digs/set and leads a defensive corps that returns their top 4 in the average digs column. They will have to figure out how to operate without middle blocker Samantha Peters, who closed out her senior year by being named the Mountain West Player of the Year.