Marquette volleyball started off the 2016 season with a trip to Los Angeles as the lone non-California participant in USC’s Baden Invitational. The Golden Eagles immediately established themselves as a poor guest, upsetting the #7 ranked host Trojans in four sets on Friday night. They played their final two matches of the event on Saturday, earning a five set win over UC-Irvine before falling in four sets to Santa Clara to wrap up the weekend with a record of 2-1.
Off the rip, it would appear that scuffling with the Anteaters and losing to the unranked Broncos after knocking off a top 10 team like USC aren’t the best possible set of results. That’s a fair observation, but there are two caveats. The first one is that Santa Clara is a quality opponent that’s coming off an NCAA tournament appearance last year and should be favored to return to the tourney again this December. The second caveat is a function of the schedule to USC’s event. Marquette wrapped up their win over the Women of Troy at 10pm local time in Cali, then returned to the Galen Center for a 12pm start against UCI. That match didn’t start on time, though, and by the time the five sets were wrapped up, it was 3pm, giving MU just two hours off before playing SCU. I’m sure if you ask him, head coach Ryan Theis wouldn’t accept any of this as an excuse, but the fact of the matter is that Marquette played three matches in 24 hours, including two against NCAA tournament teams from a year ago. Hell, going into it, I would have told you that coming out 2-1 would be a good result, mostly just because it’s hard to beat top 10 teams at home.
It turns out it’s not, though, as USC went 0-3 on the weekend and will almost assuredly not be ranked when the new AVCA poll comes out. Thanks for nothing, jerks.
That match against USC started out pretty much as badly as you could expect a match to start. The Trojans outhit MU .381 to .028 and won 25-16, and it never really felt close. USC wouldn’t hit better than .200 in any of the next three sets, though, as MU never hit worse than .194 and took those frames 25-20, 25-20, and 25-22. Taylor Louis led MU in kills with 12, although she only hit .171 to get there. Her low total for four sets (she averaged nearly five a set a year ago) might be partially caused by USC recording 26 errors in the final three sets, including 13 in the second. When your opponent is putting the ball out of bounds or getting blocked on the regular, your top hitter doesn’t get as many chances to shine, but you still win.
All three of Marquette’s true freshmen made their collegiate debut in this game, including Madeline Mosher, who ended up recording the match winning kill.
Returning on Saturday to face UC-Irvine, it was clear from the jump that the Anteaters were not going to go quietly after being swept by Santa Clara on Friday. UCI won a hard fought first set, 25-23. MU bounced back by forcing their opponent into 13 errors in the second frame, and then held them to a .045 hitting percentage to sneak a 25-22 win in the third while the Golden Eagles only hit .070 themselves. The hitting struggles continued in the fourth set, as Cal-Irvine forced a fifth set by hitting .216 against a shoddy .024 with 10 errors by Marquette. UCI’s Victoria Dennis, who led all attackers with 22 kills, started off the fifth with a strike for the Anteaters, but the next four points went to MU as the Golden Eagles were able to hold on from there in the 15 point final frame.
Marquette spread the offense around in the UCI game, with five different players recording at least five kills and two more, including redshirt freshman Amanda Green in her collegiate debute, had three kills each.
The offense got even more diverse in the match against Santa Clara, and given the timeframes we’re talking about, it’s not surprising. Louis accounted for just 24% of Marquette’s attacks in the match after averaging over 35% a year ago. In the first set against the Broncos, Santa Clara got off to a 7-1 lead and MU was never able to get back into it. The next set was much closer, and MU held a 17-16 lead before Santa Clara blasted off six in a row to grab that one away from the Golden Eagles. The third frame was closer than the 25-16 score made it look, as Marquette closed the frame down with an 8-1 run to push it to a fourth. SCU paid the Golden Eagles back with an 8-0 run in what would be the final set to seize control and glide easily to the 3-1 match victory.
Louis finished the weekend averaging just 2.69 kills per set, but she has five teammates getting at least one kill in each frame. We’ll see if MU was spreading things out more and more as the weekend went on because of fatigue issues or if it is an intentional attempt by Theis to take some of the burden off of Louis. Senior setter Sara Blasier comes away from MU’s first three matches averaging 7.62 assists, well off of her 10+/set mark of 2015. Lauren Houg is back to her deft touch on defense, tallying 4.54 digs/set, while Jenna Rosenthal and Meghan Niemann are assembling the beginnings of a nice wall at the net. Rosenthal’s averaging 1.08 blocks per set, while Niemann’s not that far from a block per frame at 0.92.
Up Next: Marquette will be out in Kansas next weekend for a tournament hosted by Wichita State. They’ll see IUPUI (1-2) on Friday, followed by Cincinnati (2-1) and the host Shockers (1-1) on Saturday. WSU, who was ahead of Marquette in the AVCA Recieving Votes department, beat #18 Creighton in five sets on Saturday.