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Volleyball Weekend Preview: The Marquette Invitational

After two weekends on the road at two tournaments, the Golden Eagles are back in Milwaukee to host their own tournament.

It's a big weekend for the Golden Eagle as the hosting mascot.
It's a big weekend for the Golden Eagle as the hosting mascot.
Kevin C. Cox

An early start on Friday morning means we bring this Weekend Preview to you on Thursday so you're all set to go by tomorrow.  Marquette enters the weekend with their sights set on jumping back into the AVCA top 25 for the first time since last year's final poll.  The Golden Eagles are dispatched their non-ranked opponents with relative ease so far this season while suffering their only two losses against teams ranked in the top 25.  Against #18 Colorado State, the Rams were clearly the better team on the court at the time, but against #8 Florida State, it was a different story.  Marquette pushed the Seminoles to the limit, forcing a fifth set and only falling 15-13 in the final frame.

There won't be any ranked teams in the McGuire Center this weekend, so there aren't any opportunities for statement games, but four wins combined with a loss or two from teams ranked 20-25 would most likely jump MU into the top 25 with ease.  It could be a big weekend for Big East volleyball, as Creighton is just three slots behind Marquette in the AVCA polling.  The Jays are hosting their own tournament this weekend as well, and they'll have matches against Pepperdine, Bowling Green, and Wichita State.

Turning our attention back to the team in blue and gold, Marquette currently ranks second in the Big East in both hitting percentage (.250) and opponent's hitting percentage (.140).  That's always a solid recipe for victory.  One of the things that's really helping that defensive stat is Marquette's blocking.  The Golden Eagles rank second in the Big East in that category as well, recording 2.68 blocks per set.  That's WAY up from the 2.0 they averaged last year under Bond Shymansky, which had them ranked just 7th in the conference.  This improvement was slightly expected, given the emphasis that new head coach Ryan Theis had on blocking at Ohio, but it's nice to see it actually coming to fruition.

Match #6: vs James Madison (4-3)

When: Friday, September 12, 2014, at 11am
Where: Al McGuire Center
Audio/Visual: Marquette loves you, so that means FREE live video streaming on top of live stats.
Special Promotions: FREE admission for faculty & staff, plus concessions specials, so be sure to take your lunch break at the McGuire Center.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

The Dukes have started the season with seven matches at home as part of two different tournaments over the last two weekends.  They have one win via sweep, two losses via sweep, and every other match has gone to four sets.  One of the sweep losses was to Villanova, who was picked to finish seventh in the Big East.  With that said, JMU was picked to finish second to College of Charleston in the CAA, snagging two first place votes along the way.  Senior middle blocker Lizzy Briones was named to the preseason all-CAA team, as was sophomore right side hitter Janey Goodman.

Both Briones and Goodman have lived up to their billing so far this season, going 1-2 on the stat sheet in kills and hitting percentage.  Junior Sarah Patterson has the team lead in assists with 8.44 per set, but she has been subbed off for two other setters at points this season.  Freshman Taylor Austin (4.00/set) and junior MacKenzie Kleespies (3.56/set) are a formidable duo on the back line, combining to average 7.56 digs per set.

Match #7: vs Rice (5-3)

When: Friday, September 12, 2014, at 7pm
Where: Al McGuire Center
Audio/Visual: Marquette loves you, so that means FREE live video streaming on top of live stats.
Special Promotions: How about a Welcome Back BBQ for students just south of the Al starting at 6pm??
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

The Owls come in to Milwaukee with the gaudiest record amongst the visiting teams.  Two of their losses came in five set battles, and the third was to Baylor.  I'm giving them a pass on the 3-1 loss to Baylor, because while the Bears were picked to finish sixth in the nine team Big 12 (insert joke here), there are two Big 12 teams ranked and three more getting votes.

Rice was picked to finish third in Conference USA after finishing 11-19 a year ago, and sophomore setter Sara Blasier was named to the preseason all-conference team.  Blasier is averaging a strong 10.29 assists/set, and while her attacks are pretty accurate (.391 hitting percentage), she doesn't do much other than pass, having made just 64 attacks so far this season.

The offense largely swings around the play of Leah Mikesky.  The redshirt sophomore outside hitter is averaging 3.57 kills/set in her first season at Rice after starting her career at Florida State.  The Owls have strong support for Mikesky, with two more hitters averaging at least 2.40 kills per set.  Mikesky chips in on defense, too, recording 2.81 digs/set, third best on the team.

Match #8: vs UW-Green Bay (1-5)

When: Saturday, September 13, 2014, at 12pm
Where: Al McGuire Center
Audio/Visual: Marquette loves you, so that means FREE live video streaming on top of live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

For those of you expecting to see a familiar face when the Phoenix roll into the Al, not so fast.  After one season at the helm, Michaela Franklin left UWGB to rejoin Bond Shymansky as associate head coach at Iowa.

Green Bay opened up the season with four straight losses, but that's what happens when you invite Big 12 and Pac12 teams to your own tournament, I suppose.  The Phoenix picked up their lone win of the season against Central Michigan in a tournament that CMU hosted, so they know how to be the poor guest as well.

Green Bay was picked to finish sixth in the Horizon League this season, but junior libero Jillian Bauer was named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year.  Bauer led the HL in digs last season and ranked 31st nationally with 5.07/set.  She hasn't quite gotten on the same track yet this season, averaging just 4.18/set so far.  Outside hitter Shannon Hurley was named to the preseason all-HL team after leading the entire Horizon League in kills/set as a freshman with 3.38 on average.  She's struggling even more than Bauer is, hitting just .094 and averaging 1.86 kills.  Junior Taylor Kasal has the team lead in kills right now, averaging 2.5 per set.

Match #9: vs UT-San Antonio (2-3)

When: Saturday, September 13, 2014, at 8pm
Where: Al McGuire Center
Audio/Visual: Because of men's soccer starting an hour earlier, no video for this one, just live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

While Rice was picked to finish third in Conference USA, the Roadrunners were picked to win the league.  UTSA was picking up votes in the AVCA preseason poll, but after last weekend's losses to Texas State and Wichita State, that's off the deck.

UTSA is relying on two sophomores to power the offense.  Dajana Boskovic and Jessica Waldrip were both named the preseason all-CUSA team, with Boskovic coming off a debut season that had her on the all-conference first team a year ago.  With that said, Boskovic played in the opening set of the season and hasn't played since.  Waldrip is averaging 9.77 assists so far this season, which is no doubt affected by the absence of Boskovic.

Without Boskovic, Dempsey Thornton and Marijeta Runjic have been outstanding, with both women averaging more than 3.1 kills/set.  While the kills numbers are good, the hitting is not, as the Roadrunners are hitting .170 as a team and Thornton and Runjic are both hitting .144.  Junior libero and Wisconsin native Annie Kunes is a powerhouse on defense for UTSA, averaging 5.54 digs/set.