Marquette has seen two ranked teams so far this season. First, the Golden Eagles were swept by #18 Colorado State in the opening weekend of the season, then they barely lost in five sets to #8 Florida State. In both circumstances, MU had to go into the match with little preparation, as both matches were the last one of the weekend.
This time around, Marquette has been able to focus on the #7 ranked Florida Gators all week. Will the preparation change the results this time around? We'll have to see how that one plays out, but hopefully focusing on starting with Florida doesn't also lead to a let down for the rest of the weekend. Marquette plays three matches in three days starting on Friday night, and coming away 2-1 is still a success given the talent of the Gators.
One thing that jumps out at me as to how Ryan Theis has changed how Marquette is playing is MU's sudden development in the blocking category. The Golden Eagles currently rank 22nd in the country and average 2.77 blocks per set. Across all of last season, MU averaged 2.0 blocks per set, and while MU is relying on a number of young players, you don't suddenly find an extra three-quarters of a block per set purely through development. Leading the block party is Meghan Niemann, who ranks 20th in the country with 1.47 blocks/set.
Match #10: at #7 Florida (5-2)
When: Friday, September 19, 2014, at 6pm Central
Where: O'Connell Center in Gainesville, FL
Audio/Visual: The game will be streamed on SEC Network+, so fire up your favorite WatchESPN app. There will also be audio via GatorVision (don't think about it), and live stats, too.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
The Gators have just two losses on the season: at the aforementioned Florida State squad, and a home contest against the Texas team that's now ranked #2 in the country. They've also picked up wins against #19 San Diego, #10 USC, and Oklahoma, and while the Sooners aren't ranked, they're no pushover, either. In fact, the Sooners are the only team to push UF past three sets and end up with a loss.
Florida was picked to win the SEC this season, and a full one-third of the preseason all-conference team was Gators. Alex Holston, Ziva Recek, and Taylor Unroe were the three UF players honored, and two of the three have lived up to their billing so far. Holston has the team lead in kills (3.19/set) while hitting a robust .310, while Unroe is second on the team in digs at 2.19/set. Recek has only played in 14 of UF's 26 sets this season, but she's also played in all but one of their seven matches.
Match #11: at UCF (7-3)
When: Saturday, September 20, 2014, at 2pm Central
Where: The Venue at UCF in Orlando, FL
Audio/Visual: UCF does at least one thing right and provides FREE video streaming. Live stats should be over here.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
That 7-3 record looks pretty gaudy, but there's a dark secret: The Knights are 1-3 in their last four matches. Through their first six contests, they dropped just one set, but they've gone 4-9 in individual sets since then. In their defense, their last two matches were against top 25 teams in the form of Texas and Arizona, but that's still the facts of how things have gone for Central Florida.
Sophomores Jale Hervey and Kia Bright both average more than three kills per set for UCF, and as a team, they hit a solid .275. Like Marquette, the Knights deploy two setters, with Dana Faught and Marie Reiterova alternating starts. Four players average at least two digs per set, led by 5.09/set from senior libero Jade Hayes.
Match #12: vs Jacksonville (6-4)
UPDATE! Now we know why!
.@AnonymousEagle JU match originally slated at UF. Didn't make sense to drive back and fly out of MCO. We will provide live stats.— Marquette Volleyball (@MarquetteVB) September 21, 2014
After a rough start to the season, JU's on a four match winning streak right now. They host UNC-Ashville and Dayton today and then Charlotte tomorrow before traveling southwards to meet up with Marquette in Oviedo for some godforsaken reason, so that record could turn ugly before Sunday afternoon. You see, while they're on a winning streak, it's not exactly against world beaters: home against Georgia State, on the road against Charleston Southern, and neutral site matches against North Carolina Central and South Carolina State.
In their defense, the Dolphins did win the 2013 Atlantic Sun tournament, and they were picked to finish second in the A-Sun this season after picking up two of the first place votes. Junior outside hitter Sammie Strausbaugh was named to the preseason all-Atlantic Sun team, and she's also the reigning A-Sun Player of the Week. Strausbaugh averaged 4.44 kills/set last weekend, and is averaging a whopping 4.80 per set on the season. Somehow, there's still enough volleyballs to go around for Emily Laskelle to average 3.6 kills/set, too. Junior setter Jizzian Gesualdo averages 9.86 assists/set, and somehow, Strausbaugh is the digs leader at 3.17/set, too.