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Marquette Volleyball 2015 NCAA Tournament Preview: vs Northern Iowa

The Golden Eagles look to make the most of their fifth straight national championship tournament appearance.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the fifth consecutive season and for the fifth time in program history, Marquette volleyball is back in the NCAA tournament.

This makes volleyball the most consistently successful program under the Marquette banner.  I think men's lacrosse might be #2 at this point due to their near miss on the NCAA tournament a year ago.  But that's a discussion for January.

Marquette heads into the national championship tournament with a record of 21-11, making this the sixth consecutive year that MU has broken the 20 win barrier.  The Golden Eagles finished fourth in the Big East with a record of 11-5 and bowed out of the Big East tournament in the semifinals after a crazy bananas five set match with regular season champs and eventual tournament champion Creighton.

Taylor Louis Watch: The redshirt freshman is currently ranked #5 in the country in kills per set at 4.89.  The only people in front of Louis are averaging over five kills a frame.  With 567 kills on the season, Louis is just nine kills away from tying the MU single season record for kills which was set just one year ago by Autumn Bailey.  Louis is currently holding the best kills average in program history, but that doesn't officially get logged into the record book until the season is over.

Jenna Rosenthal Watch: With eight assisted blocks against Creighton in the Big East tournament semifinals, Rosenthal surpassed Peggy Gross' school record of 118.  The redshirt freshman from Fond Du Lac has emerged as a dominant threat in the middle on both offense and defense for the Golden Eagles, and for her to already crush one school record in her first collegiate season is fantastic.

Lauren Houg Watch: Marquette's libero recorded 35 digs against the Bluejays, a nutty average of seven digs per set, made even more impressive when you remember that the fifth set shuts down when one team hits 15 points instead of the traditional 25.  That 34th dig got her to 600 on the season, making Houg just the second player in Marquette history to ever break the 600 dig barrier.  She will pass Julie Jeziorowski for the second best season in program history in MU's next match, as JJ's 2012 campaign ended with 604 digs.  Jeziorowski has the single season record after getting 638 digs in 2011, and that number is probably out of reach for Houg unless Marquette gets at least to Saturday's second round match.  Unless she throws up an insane 38 digs in five sets against the Panthers, which, I guess based on the Creighton match, is not completely out of the question.

NCAA Tournament First Round: vs Northern Iowa (19-14)

When: Friday, December 4, 2015, at 4:30pm Central
Where: UM Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis, MN
Audio/Visual: has the FREE video stream, plus there's live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

The Panthers are back in the NCAA tournament for the 19th time, but it's their first appearance since 2012.  They got here courtesy of an at large bid after they finished fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference in the regular season and then bowed out to regular season champs and eventual tournament champs Wichita State in the MVC tournament semifinals in five sets.  This all sounds very familiar, doesn't it, Marquette fans?

Reading through the UNI game notes for this match, I discovered that Northern Iowa played the 14th toughest schedule in the country, at least according to the way that the NCAA calculates those kinds of things.  For comparison's sake, Marquette had the 19th hardest schedule this season.  The most impressive thing about this is that there are seven Pac 12 teams in the 64 team NCAA tournament and 9 Big Ten teams in as well.  It's not easy to build a schedule that's more difficult than the ones played by the teams in those two conference, not to mention the Big 12, too, but both UNI and Marquette managed to pull that off.

Two Panthers were included in the MVC All-Conference First Team.  Middle hitter Kayla Haneline led Northern Iowa in kills, blocks, and hitting percentage this season.  It's her second straight season on the MVC First Team.  Teammate Amie Held presents an interesting problem for Marquette.  She started the season as UNI's libero, but she was moved to outside hitter at the start of October.  Held leads all Panthers in kills since she was shifted in the lineup, and she finished with the team best in digs for the full season.  She's posted 15 kills three times this season and 30 digs on two other occasions, too.

Sophomore Heather Hook handles the setting duties for Northern Iowa.  The Grundy Center, Iowa, native is averaging 10.67 assists per set this season and she's one of five Panthers to play in every single set this season.