When the Big East preseason polling came out and Marquette was picked to finish second in the league, I was kind of confused. With the amount of offense that the Golden Eagles had lost from 2014 between graduations and transfers, I didn't expect to see the team be the obvious second best team after Creighton.
When I saw that Marquette's opponents at the Cyclone Invitational would be a North Dakota team coming off one of the best years in school history, a Dayton team returning all the major pieces from an Atlantic 10 championship team, and an Iowa State team that was starting the season ranked #21 in the country by the AVCA, I figured that this opening weekend would be an interesting measuring stick for head coach Ryan Theis and his squad.
Well, that was definitely true. Marquette dropped just one set, the second frame against UND, on their way to opening the season with three straight wins and took the Cyclone Invitational championship. I have to admit, I did not see that one coming.
Burning through the Flyers and the Cyclones in straight sets was even more surprising after MU's results against North Dakota on Friday night. Yes, UND only won a single set off of Marquette, but the scores were close: only a five point win for MU in the first, and only the minimum allowed margin of 25-23 in the third. The fourth set went all the way out to 32 points for the Golden Eagles before it was wrapped up on back to back kills from Meghan Niemann and Taylor Louis.
The first two sets against Dayton were fairly tightly contested, with finals of 25-21 and 25-23. Marquette ripped Dayton's heart out after intermission, though, taking a 6-2 lead early and eventually building that into a 21-12 margin before winning 25-15. Louis continued to be the focal point of the Marquette offense, recording a match high 17 kills to nail down the win for MU.
Saturday's night cap against the hosting Cyclones was marred with lousy hitting on both sides. Marquette came away with the three set win after hitting just .167, but that was better than Iowa State's .077. The worst set for ISU was the second, where they threw away an 11-6 lead by committing 17 attack errors in the set and handing Marquette a 25-21 win. Marquette used that bounce back momentum in the third to roar out to a 15-3 lead coming out of the locker room, but Iowa State has that national ranking to start the season for a reason. They chipped their way back into the match, and even though Marquette had match point at 24-18, Iowa State fended off the Marquette attack to tie the match at 24. The next point was recorded by Niemann smacking a kill to the floor, and an Iowa State attack error handed MU their third win of the weekend.
It's the first win over a ranked opponent for Marquette since they dumped #7 Florida in September of 2014.
Taylor Louis is the clear star of this Marquette team as she finishes the opening weekend averaging 5.90 kills per set. And to think after the team scrimmage the other day, I thought she couldn't possibly average six kills a set. Sara Blasier has been as good as advertised at setter, recording 12.30 assists per set. The impressive thing about Marquette's defense isn't the 17.50 digs per set or the 2.45 blocks per set, though. No, it's that Louis and Blasier are both jumping into the action on that end, too, averaging 2.60 and 3.30 digs respectively.
There is one slight concern for Marquette going forward. At the end of the weekend, Louis has 145 attack attempts, which is 38.6% of all of MU's attacks. Second best on the team is Erin Lehman at 19.1%. In 2014, Autumn Bailey finished with 34.2% of the attacks, with Nele Barber behind her at 19.3%. I don't think it's particularly great for an offense to be tilted that heavily towards one particular player, as there were matches last year where Bailey struggled to put the ball on the floor and as a result, Marquette struggled as a team. I'd have to dig deeper to make any definitive statements, but in Ryan Theis' final year at Ohio, he took a team to the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid that had a leading attacker take up just 23.4% of the swings. What we're seeing from Theis at Marquette may just be a function of him using the players that he has available more than what he actually wants to do as a fully operational system.
Up Next: Marquette gets back into action next weekend, when they participate in the Dr. Mary Jo Winn Invitational in Springfield, Missouri. They'll be playing Oral Roberts (2-1) on Friday, followed by Miami (FL) (3-0) and the host Missouri State (3-0) on Saturday.