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2016 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament Preview: Marquette vs Washington State

The Golden Eagles are in the tourney for the sixth time in program history.

NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Washington State
Nice ride, Butch.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

2016 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament First Round

Marquette (23-8) vs Washington State (21-11)

When: Thursday, December 1, 2016, at 5pm CT
Where: UW Field House in Madison, WI
Audio/Visual: BTN2Go Plus should have the video stream. Wisconsin claims live stats will be here, but MU says go here for that.
All Time Series: This is the first meeting between the two teams.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

For the sixth consecutive season, Marquette finds themselves in the NCAA tournament. It’s also the sixth appearance in program history. Bond Shymansky put the Golden Eagles into the tournament for the first time in 2011, and Ryan Theis has carried that streak forward in each of his three seasons at the helm. Marquette is 3-5 all time in the NCAA tourney and 1-2 under Theis. MU reached the second round a year ago with a five set win over Northern Iowa before falling to host Minnesota.

The Golden Eagles are coming into the NCAA tournament on a bit of a slide. They’ve lost three of their last four contests, including back-to-back losses to Xavier. They closed the regular season with a 3-1 loss to the Musketeers, then turned around and lost 3-1 again to XU in the Big East tournament semifinals. The late season slide threw a little bit of doubt on Marquette’s chances to make the NCAAs at all as their RPI slid from the low 30s to the low 40s. They’re in the field, though, so hopefully they can shake off whatever has been bothering them over the last three weeks.

Taylor Louis is the engine that drives Marquette. The redshirt sophomore leads the team in kills, just like she did a year ago. Her 4.44 kills per set is one of the 20 best averages in the country, and she hits a respectable .246 to provide efficiency to go along with her power.

Louis was joined on the All-Big East First Team this season by three of her teammates, middle hitters Jenna Rosenthal and Meghan Niemann along with outside hitter Allie Barber. Rosenthal and Niemann are the #2 and #3 attackers on the team in terms of kills, with Barber sitting in the four hole at just barely less than two kills per set. Niemann is Marquette’s all time leader in both total blocks and assisted blocks, at least for now. Rosenthal, a redshirt sophomore, is already on pace to go soaring past Niemann at some point during her career. Barber hit .318 against Big East teams this season to help her earn co-Freshman of the Year honors from the league office.

This will be Washington State’s 11th trip to the NCAA tournament in program history, but just the first for head coach Jen Greeny, who’s now in her sixth season. The Cougars come into the NCAA tournament with wins in four of their final six matches, but that streak followed up a four match losing streak for WSU. That kick at the end of the season pushed Washington State up to fifth place in the highly competitive Pac-12, where the top three teams all earned national seedings in the NCAA tournament.

While Greeny was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year, only one of her charges made their way onto the 18 player all-conference squad. That was senior outside hitter Kyra Holt, who is making her second appearance on the all-league team. Holt led WSU in kills this season with 3.72/set and scored nearly 200 total points more than her next closest teammate. The Cougars will use a two-setter system, with Nicole Rigoni (4.88 assists/set) and Haley MacDonald (5.41 assists/set) both seeing playing time in every set this season.

Marquette was one of the best blocking teams in the Big East this season, averaging 2.37 stuffs per set. Washington State was even better, averaging 3.30 blocks per set as a team. Two players - Taylor Mims and Claire Martin - both averaged more than 1.4 blocks per set this season, and a third, Casey Schoenlein, fell just short of averaging a block in every set.

If Marquette can get the ball around, over, or thru the Washington State blockers, they might be able to cause some dysfuntion in the back. Six Cougars averaged at least one dig per set this season with Alexis Dirige leading the way at only 3.82 per set.