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2016 Big East Volleyball Semifinal Preview: #2 Marquette vs #3 Xavier

The Golden Eagles have their eyes set on making it to the title game for the first time since 2013.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Xavier vs DePaul David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

2016 Big East Volleyball Semifinals

#2 Marquette (23-7, 13-5 Big East) vs #3 Xavier (19-12, 13-5 Big East)

When: Friday, November 25, 2016, at 2pm CT
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN
Audio/Visual: The Big East Digital Network on Fox Sports Go has the video broadcast, plus there’s live stats.
Season Series: Tied at 1 apiece, with each team winning at home.
All Time Series: Marquette leads, 10-8, although Xavier has won three of the last four.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB & @BigEastChamps

Marquette comes into the Big East tournament on a bit of a slide, at least relative to the rest of their season. After going 22-5 overall and 12-3 in league play, seemingly holding full control over their position as the #2 seed in the Big East tournament, Marquette lost two of their final three matches. It’s not the worst thing in the world, of course, but they ended up needing a tiebreaker to slip past the Musketeers for the #2 seed, which was not expected.

The Golden Eagles have four players on the Big East’s all-league First Team. Three of them - senior Meghan Niemann and sophomores Taylor Louis & Jenna Rosenthal - were not surprises. The fourth, freshman middle hitter Allie Barber, was a surprise, as was Barber being named Co-Freshman of the Year along with St. John’s Erica Di Maulo. Barber’s been good, to be clear, but she’s been coming off the bench all season behind Niemann and Rosenthal, and you’d hardly call her an impact player for the Golden Eagles.

There are a couple of historical notes to keep an eye on in regards to Marquette for the Big East tournament. Taylor Louis currently has the ninth most kills in program history, and she trails Meghan Devine in 8th place by 19 kills. It would take a great performance and/or multiple sets, but that’s in range for Louis. Her 503 kills this season are the fifth most in any season by a Golden Eagle, and she needs just 17 to catch Vesna Grbavac for fourth. Every block posted by Meghan Niemann advances her career total blocks record, and the same goes for every assisted block by the redshirt senior. She’s not the only adept blocker on the squad, though, as Jenna Rosenthal is sitting third on the single season assisted blocks chart at 126. She trails only her own freshman year (133) and Niemann’s sophomore season (137). Continuing on the defensive side, Lauren Houg needs just five digs to tie Jamie Mueller at 517 for the sixth best season in program history.

Xavier comes into the Big East tournament as winners of eight of their last nine matches. The only loss came on their road trip to Omaha to face Creighton, and with the Bluejays going 16-0 in league play this season, you can’t really blame the Musketeers for dropping that one. It’s honestly a pretty impressive performance from Xavier, since they were once 11-11 on the season and just 5-4 in Big East matches.

The Musketeer offense revolves around Abbey Bessler. She averages 4.18 kills per set, which is approaching nearly a kill and a half more than anyone else on the team. However, that’s not the full story on how much Xavier relies on her. She has 1,197 attacks this season, nearly 500 more than the next closest attacker. Now, this isn’t as tipped in her favor as Marquette is tipped towards Taylor Louis, but Louis’ supporting cast is much more robust than Bessler’s.

Xavier’s reliance on Bessler is made more interesting by their use of two setters. Mackenzi Humm gets the start more often than not over McKena Estes, but Estes has also played in all but three sets for Xavier this season. Combined, they average 11.35 assists per set, which would challenge Creighton’s Lydia Dimke for the best mark in the league if Humm and Estes were just one person.

Xavier’s not a particularly great team at coming up with digs, ranking seventh in the league in that category, and their leader, Meredith Klare, ranks just eighth on the individual chart. They do have two of the six best blockers in the league in Alexis Newsome (1.18/set) and Brooke Betts (0.96/set), and as a team, they rank third in the Big East, just slightly behind Marquette.

Marquette-Xavier is the second of the two semifinal matches on Friday, with #1 seed Creighton facing #4 Seton Hall at 11:30 am Central. The winners of both semifinals advance to Saturday’s championship match, which will start at 1:30pm and will be broadcast on FS2.