It had to go the distance, but Marquette volleyball eventually came up the winner against Northern Iowa in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Volleyball tournament. The Golden Eagles took the 3-2 win with set scores of 25-17, 22-25, 25-11, 23-25, and 15-9. With the win, Marquette advances to the second round of the tournament for the third time in program history and the second time in three seasons.
At times, it seemed that Marquette was poised to run away with this match. Those times would specifically be the first set, particularly when they went on an 11-4 run to break that frame wide open, and the third set, where Marquette jumped out to a 9-1 lead and led 20-5 before securing the win.
At other times, it was a tooth and nail fight for anything to happen. Not coincidentally, that's a pretty solid way to explain the two sets that Marquette lost in this match. After a shoddy first half, UNI bounced back to hit .333 against Marquette and squeak out a 25-22 win. The biggest lead in the second set was when Northern Iowa led 7-3. Marquette scored three of the next four points and it was a tough fight the rest of the way with Mqrquette only leading briefly at 11-10. In the fourth set, it looked like Marquette was going to use their high octane momentum from the third set to take the win once they were up 11-7 on a UNI attack error. The Panthers scored the next six points to take a 13-11 lead and the fight was on from there. The match would be tied five times between 13-11 and 25-23 when the Panthers won on a kill from Lindsay Schulz.
If you thought I hated fifth sets from rants earlier in the year, well, my problems with the shortened decisive set are only magnified when it's an elimination game. Luckily for my cardiologist and my overall stress management, UNI handed Marquette four points in the final frame which allowed the Golden Eagles to first keep it close and then go on a 7-1 run on the final eight points of the match to wrap things up with what amounted to ease at 15-9.
Taylor Louis was a MONSTER for Marquette, well, at least in the final four sets. The redshirt freshman had just two kills in the first set, but ended up finishing with 26 kills to boost her season average back towards five kills per frame. Louis was so on fire in the second set that she managed to wrap up the 10 kills that she needed to set a new Marquette single season record before the teams went to the locker rooms for intermission.
Even with Louis' big day, the Golden Eagles still had a well balanced night. Jenna Rosenthal had 11 kills, and Meghan Niemann was right behind her with 10. Joy Miley just barely missed joining the double digit party with nine strikes of her own. Head coach Ryan Theis has to be pleased with the accuracy of his primary attackers, as Louis, Niemann, and Rosenthall all hit better than .330 in the match.
Speaking of hitting percentages, that tells a big story about what happened in this match. UNI hit better than .235 in just one set, which includes the fourth set that they won while getting outhit, .316 to .156. The Panthers committed at least three errors in every set against Marquette while the Golden Eagles hit .343 for the match, and never dipped below .235 in any set. That includes an error free 19 swings in the fifth set with their postseason life on the line.
With the win, Marquette moves on to face....
2015 NCAA Tournament Second Round: at #2 Minnesota (27-4, 18-2 Big Ten)
... the Golden Gophers, who were the Big Ten's regular season champion this season. They earned the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with that title, as the B1G doesn't have a conference tournament in volleyball. With a 26-4 record in their left hand and a Big Ten title in their right, Minnesota was tabbed as the #2 seed in the entire country for this year's NCAA tournament.
Minnesota comes in having won 18 of their last 19 matches. The lone loss in that bunch came at Purdue in five sets, and the Gophs have bounced back to win their next three since then, including an eradication of Jackson State on Friday night to advance to the NCAA tournament second round. UM obliterated the SWAC champs by scores of 25-9, 25-13, and 25-17.
Three Gophers landed on the Big Ten's all-conference squad at the conclusion of the regular season. Daly Santana, a senior outside hitter from Puerto Rico, was named the Big Ten's Player of the Year, setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson was named Freshman of the Year by the league office, and junior middle blocker Hannah Tapp was "merely" included on the all-conference team. Santana is a dynamo, averaging 4.42 kills/set and finding 2.84 digs/set in her free time. Seliger-Swenson ranked 12th in the country in assists the last time that the NCAA updated their math, and she's boosted her average up to 11.54 since then.
Tapp is a fearsome player at the net for UM, averaging 2.76 kills and 1.05 blocks per set each. Hannah's twin sister Paige is actually the better blocker at 1.18/frame, but the team lead still belongs to Molly Lohman at 1.24 blocks in each set on average this year. Sophomore outside hitter Alyssa Goehner, who was once signed to play for Marquette but was released when Bond Shymansky left for Iowa, is a regular for the Gophers, appearing in 113 of 115 sets this season. While she plays an awful lot, Goehner doesn't have much of an impact on the statsheet, averaging more digs (1.95) than kills (1.04).