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Marquette Volleyball Weekend Preview: at St. John’s & at Seton Hall

The Golden Eagles are out east on Friday & Saturday with an eye on starting a winning streak.

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at St. John Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

With Wednesday’s (slightly random) afternoon win over Xavier, Marquette moved themselves to 3-2 on the season in Big East action. That bumped them into a three way tie for third place in the conference, and thanks to tiebreakers at least for the moment, Marquette has the #3 spot in the conference. Only four teams make it to the Big East tournament, so it’s crucial to keep yourself in that top grouping.

Of course, there’s still 13 more matches to be played this season, so there’s a lot of chances for things to shift around on you. This weekend, Marquette will get a crack at one of the teams they’re tied with as well as one of the teams that’s in the current tie for sixth place. That makes this two game swing to New York and New Jersey pretty important in creating separation in the standings early.

It’s also important for Marquette to pick up two wins out east if they still want to entertain thoughts of a regular season title. With losses to Villanova and Creighton, Marquette is going to need some help across the final month and a half of conference action to get there, but it’s always best to do everything in your control to put yourself in position to take advantage of the missteps of other teams. Creighton (4-0) still hasn’t dropped a match this season, while Villanova (3-2) took their second loss of the season the night before handing Marquette their second loss. Like I said, you have to take advantage of the mistakes of others, and MU has already given away one such opportunity.

Lauren Houg Watch: MU’s sophomore libero continues her climb to the #2 spot on the all-time digs chart. She’s up to 1,519 for her career, which puts her 48 behind Jamie Mueller. It’s possible that Houg could catch Mueller this weekend, but it would take either two monster performances from the senior or two matches that go at least four sets. I’d prefer option A.

Sara Blasier Watch: We add MU’s senior setter to the stat watch list with this preview as she’s now within shouting distance of Marquette’s top 10 in career assists. At 1,793 in just 49 career matches, she trails Jenny Binfield in 10th place by just 38 helpers. A big game on Friday night could lead to Blaiser jumping up to the #9 spot by the time she returns to Milwaukee, as Sarah Vernon had 1,854 assists in her career.

Big East Match #6: at St. John’s (11-7, 2-3 Big East)

When: Friday, October 7, 2016, at 4pm CT
Where: Carnesecca Arena in Queens, NY
Audio/Visual: ESPN3/WatchESPN has the video stream because of SJU’s weird side deal, plus there’s live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB & @StJohnsVB

Marquette is 10-4 all time vs St. John’s, with the second meeting between the two schools last season snapping a 10 match winning streak by the Golden Eagles. Before that, SJU’s last win over Marquette came back in 2007.

St. John’s had a largely unremarkable non-conference schedule where they played a bunch of nobodies and lost to the only halfway decent teams they played. That’s turned around into them having a mediocre start to league play, although they did snap a three match losing streak with a win over Seton Hall in their most recent outing.

It’s kind of a weird situation for this outside observer. In the past few years, St. John’s always had at least one major offensive threat on the squad, which led to a “hey, why aren’t they better?” line of thinking. This year, they barely have a hitter in the top 10 in the league in kills (she’s tied for 10th), but somehow they’re #3 in team hitting percentage and #2 in defensive hitting percentage. I’d ask why aren’t they better with that kind of math, but I suspect it has something to do with that pile of low-quality non-conference opponents.

Margherita Bianchin is the aforementioned barely top 10 hitter, averaging 3.06 kills per set. To SJU’s credit, they do have two more hitters, Julia Cast and Gaia Traballi, who also average over three kills per set, so they’re not afraid about spreading the ball around. Erica DiMaulo is making a case for Big East Freshman of the Year by averaging over 10 assists per match for the Red Storm.

The Red Storm defense is pretty interesting, as they’re holding teams to a low hitting percentage, but it’s not because they dig the ball out. They’re ninth in the league in digs as a team and their best defensive specialist is averaging 2.30 per set which is 22nd best in the Big East. However, Danisha Moss is the best blocker in the league, averaging 1.6 blocks per set. It will be an interesting battle between Moss, who stands 6’3”, and Marquette’s Jenna Rosenthal, who measures 6’6”.

Big East Match #7: at Seton Hall (9-9, 3-2 Big East)

When: Saturday, October 8, 2016, at 6pm CT
Where: Walsh Gym in South Orange, NJ
Audio/Visual: SHUPirates.com has the free video stream & there’s live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB & @SHUVolley

The Golden Eagles hold a 10-4 lead in the all time series against the Pirates. MU is on a two match winning streak against SHU after losing to the Pirates in the Big East tournament semifinals in 2014.

For a brief minute there, Seton Hall had lifted themselves back above .500 on the season by starting out the league schedule 3-1. They got knocked back to even by a loss to St. John’s last Saturday, so they’ll have to regroup and move on from there. It’s been a rough go of things for the Pirates ever since making their first ever NCAA tournament appearance in 2014 on the backs of the Manthorpe twins. They were seniors that year, and since getting bounced by BYU in the first round, SHU has gone 23-25.

It doesn’t seem like things are getting all that much better this season, which is kind of a disappointment. Marquette and Creighton need teams in the Big East to step up to bolster their conference RPI, and for a moment there, it seemed like the Pirates were doing just that.

For now, though, Danielle Schroeder is carrying Seton Hall’s largely unspectacular offense. She’s locked into a tie with St. John’s Margherita Bianchin for the 10th best kills average in the Big East and Schroeder doesn’t have the benefit of two more three-kill players behind her. SHU is using two setters regularly, but it’s not like Xavier where both women are playing interchangeably. Sophia Coffey has played in every set this season, but only averages 7.12 assists. Maggie Cvelbar has played in 55 of 66 sets and averages 4.13 helpers. Collectively, Seton Hall is right in the middle of the very tight Big East pack when it comes to team assists, so whatever they’re doing as a rotation is mostly working.

SHU’s defense is pretty good, anchored by Tessa Fournier at libero. She’s the favorite to win Libero of the Year again this season and for good reason by having the best digs average in the conference. Haylee Gasser is one of five players in the Big East who averages more than a block per set, and as a team, they average more than two blocks per set.