This post was supposed to be more exciting.
But, for whatever reasons, Marquette lost five players from last year's roster that were expected to return for the 2015 season, including 2014 Big East Player of the Year Autumn Bailey. So, things are a little less exciting than they could have been. MU still has some significant contributors that could and/or will play major roles this season, so let's get everyone caught up with what second year head coach Ryan Theis has to work with, starting with the team's biggest position of strength.
This position is essentially unchanged from 2014. Meghan Niemann returns for her redshirt junior season, and the Jackson, Wisconsin, native is just as good as she's ever been. Two seasons, two seasons as a First Team All-Big East player. Under the tutelage of Theis, Niemann became a high quality shot blocker, finishing fifth in the Big East last season.
Teal Schnurr is a more than capable backup for Niemann, and actually earned a starting slot alongside her for more than half of the 2014 season. Like Niemann, Schnurr saw her kills average dip from 2013 to 2014, but unlike Niemann, she saw a dip in her blocks average as well. Jenna Rosenthal provides depth at middle hitter after sitting out the 2014 season and she'll be a redshirt freshman this season. Rosenthal spent time this summer training with USA Volleyball as part of their Collegiate National Team program. I don't want to make any crazy comparisons, but the last Marquette player to participate in this program was Elizabeth Koberstein, and all she did the season after training with USA Volleyball was win Big East Player of the Year.
Marquette isn't quite as stacked at DS/L as they are at middle hitter, but they're still set to go there. Lauren Houg played libero in all 120 of Marquette's sets in 2014, and smart money has her back in that capacity during her junior season, too. Houg finished third in the Big East in digs per set last season, and if the Golden Eagles can be competitive for the league title in 2015, you have to figure that she'll get some attention for Libero of the Year.
Ellen Hays provides solid depth for Marquette at DS after playing in 81 sets a year ago. She only recorded 101 digs for the whole season, but she's a nearly completely error free server (93.8% success rate), so she's reliable enough to keep on the floor. Nicki Barnes enters her redshirt sophomore season after operating as a serving specialist for Theis in 2014. She saw action in just 61 sets, just slightly more than half of Marquette's season, but still recorded 123 service attempts in her brief time on the floor.
The Golden Eagles return just one setter from the 2014 roster. Mary Nilles sat behind Elizabeth Koberstein for two years, including a redshirt season, and then split time with Gabby Benda last year. It wasn't an even split, though, as the now departed Benda played 111 sets while Nilles played in just 98. The redshirt junior from Batavia, IL, averaged a tad more than five assists per set last season, so the odds are that she's going to have to compete for playing time with Sara Blasier, the transfer from Rice.
Here's where we get into some real problems. Marquette really only has one returning outside hitter. Even worse, Erin Lehman has gotten increasingly marginalized in the MU offense ever since her freshman year. After averaging a shade over two and a half kills per set in her first go-round, Lehman dropped down to slightly over a pair of strikes per set while only playing in 44 sets in her sophomore season. In her junior year, she was admittedly injured and bounced back to play in 26 matches and start nine times. Lehman only averaged 1.07 kills/set, though, while posting a .163 hitting percentage, the worst of her collegiate career.
Officially, Taylor Louis is also returning to Marquette from last year's team. However, Louis sat out the 2014 season, so she'll be a redshirt freshman this fall. Given the depth that Marquette had last season, this isn't really the worst news on the planet. It's only kind of terrible when filtered through the light of Autumn Bailey and Nele Barber transferring out. Louis did come to Marquette after re-writing the Niles (IL) North High School record books, so perhaps we'll see an outstanding rookie campaign from her.