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Marquette Volleyball Weekend Preview: The Marquette Invitational

FINALLY, the Golden Eagles get to play a match at the Al McGuire Center. Three of them, in fact.

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NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Dayton vs Iowa State
Iowa State is the Cyclones, but they have a toothy cardinal mascot. Weird, right?
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

There were questions to be asked about Marquette, specifically about Taylor Louis heading into last weekend’s Bluegrass Battle hosted by the University of Kentucky. Louis, a redshirt sophomore outside hitter, was well off of her 2015 Player of the Year candidate pace in both kills and hitting percentage before the three matches in Lexington.

Now, well, we can worry a little bit less.

Louis was named MVP of the Bluegrass Battle after averaging 5.1 kills and 2.9 digs per set while hitting a robust .361. Her kills average and her points average (5.61) were the best in the entire Big East last week, which helps explain why she was named Big East Player of the Week on Monday.

Now, even with those three matches tacked on, Louis is still only averaging 3.97 kills, nearly a full kill lower than she did last year. However, she is hitting .255 after posting a .238 hitting percentage a year ago. If her kills average is going to go down a bit because she’s swinging less (12.94 attacks/set last year vs 11.18 this year), but she’s more accurate with her attacks, then it’ll all even out. It will be even better if Louis’ reduced workload is a result of her teammates taking some of the offensive pressure off her shoulders.

Last weekend, Andrew Goldstein of the Marquette Wire pointed out that since the start of last season, Marquette was 14-4 when Jenna Rosenthal and Meghan Niemann combined for at least 15 kills in a match. That was after they succeeded in that against Saint Louis, and the Golden Eagles moved that mark to 16-4 with 15 kills from that pair in the wins against Kentucky and Virginia. With Niemann hitting .287 and Rosenthal hitting .311 from their middle hitter positions, that provides Marquette with plentiful options on offense. Now, if they could just develop a consistent threat on the opposite pin from Louis.....

Meghan Niemann Watch: Hey, it’s our first historical stat watch of the year! With 27 assisted blocks on the year, Meghan Niemann now has 351 for her career, which is the second most in Marquette history. She’s still 13 shy of the all time record of 364, which is held by both Martha Meyer (1994-1997) and Rabbecka Gonyo (2007-2010). Niemann is averaging less than one assisted block per set this season, so the odds are against her getting the record before the end of the tournament.

Lauren Houg Watch: With 170 digs already this season, Lauren Houg has moved up one spot on the all time digs list. She’s now at 1,379 for her career, moving past Keelyn Krill (1,234 in 1993-1995) for fourth place. Erin Freer’s third best total of 1,405 is in her sights for this weekend, and she’ll probably pass Jamie Mueller (1,567) eventually this season, but Julie Jeziorowski’s all time record of 2,209 digs is out of reach.

Match #10: vs Iowa State (6-3)

When: Friday, September 16, 2016, at 7pm CT
Where: Al McGuire Center
Audio/Visual: Live free video on plus live stats.
Special Promotions: FREE PIZZA for students, plus rally flags for the first 200 fans.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB & @Cyclonevb

Marquette is 1-2 all time against Iowa State, with the win coming at the Al McGuire Center in 2015 in the most recent meeting between the two teams.

Ran across this from the Des Moines Register when googling for Iowa State’s website:

FORTY TO THIRTY-EIGHT. First to 25, win by two, and THEY WENT TO FORTY. Can you imagine the jokes that started when the first team hit 30 after the 29-27 opening set? Then imagine the mindset as it JUST KEPT GOING from there. The match went over three hours, and for comparison’s sake, Marquette’s lone five set contest this season only went 2:27.

That loss to the Panthers is going to do some damage to the Cyclones’ chances of getting into the top 25 next week. Sure, it’s a road game, and sure, UNI is pretty good, but that snapped a four match ISU winning streak, and of course, they’re going to lose to Marquette as well, so they’re probably not moving up from their unofficial #30 spot. It’s also probably going to make MU’s life a little tougher when it comes to benefitting from defeating the Cyclones on their way into the top 25. THANKS FOR NOTHING, NORTHERN IOWA.

The loss to UNI was the first loss of the year for Iowa State that wasn’t to a ranked team. They lost 3-1 to Creighton in the first weekend of the season back when the Jays were ranked, and they were swept by #1 Nebraska in Lincoln right before they started the winning streak that UNI snapped.

The Cyclones have two preseason all-Big 12 honorees amongst their 12 returning letterwinners from 2015, and weirdly, neither of them are leading the team in kills. Redshirt senior Morgan Kuhrt is averaging just 2.00 kills/set, while junior Alexis Conaway averages just 1.75 per frame. The straw that stirs the drink is sophomore Jess Schaben, who knocks ‘em down at a rate of 4.17 kills/set. Suzanne Horner dishes assists at a clip of nearly 11 per frame, while ISU plays defense by committee with no one averaging more than 3.5 digs.

Match #11: vs Milwaukee (6-3)

When: Saturday, September 17, 2016, at 1pm CT
Where: Al McGuire Center
Audio/Visual: TWC SportsChannel has the TV broadcast in Milwaukee, plus live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB & @MKE_Volleyball

Marquette is 30-44 all time against UWM, although the record is 18-16 since the Golden Eagles joined Division 1 and MU has won 15 straight sets against the Panthers dating back to 2012.

I probably shouldn’t say anything bad about UWM here because they started off their season with three home wins in a tournament that they hosted, and I’d like nothing more than for Marquette to do the same thing this weekend. Besides, they’re 6-3 on the year, and that’s perfectly respectable, even if the toughest team they played was either Xavier or Tennessee. The Panthers played both of those matches last weekend and they came away with 3-1 losses in both instances.

Milwaukee finished in a tie for fifth place in the Horizon League preseason poll, locking up with UW-Green Bay at 33 points. The HL doesn’t do a preseason all-conference team, which is kind of a drag. Still, considering the fact that UWM has seven freshmen on the team, making them the youngest team in the Horizon League, it’s hard to say if they would have gotten anyone listed as one of the best in the Horizon.

One of those freshmen is Jenn Dore, the starting setter for UWM. She’s averaging a very healthy 9.49 assists per set. Sophomore Caitlyn Schultz leads the team in kills at 3.25 per set, and she’s trailed by freshman Bridget Wallenberger at 2.09 per frame. Myanna Ruiz is a senior leader on the squad, anchoring the defense with 4.29 digs/set.

Match #12: vs Missouri State (8-3)

When: Saturday, September 17, 2016, at 7pm CT
Where: Al McGuire Center
Audio/Visual: Live free video on plus live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB & @MissouriStateVB

This is the second straight year that Marquette has played the Bears, and the second time all time. The Golden Eagles got the 3-1 win last year in a tournament hosted by Missouri State.

I’m honestly shocked that Missouri State is not ranked. Yes, they have a season opening loss to Xavier, and while the Musketeers aren’t a national power, they’re also not a bad team by any measure. Their other two losses are at #15 at the time Hawaii and to #8 at the time UCLA, and that one was part of the same tournament as the Hawaii loss. These are not terrible losses by any stretch, and to balance that out, they have wins over at the time #14 Illinois and at the time #12 Ohio State.

The Ohio State win was last weekend, and the Bears are currently riding a six match winning streak. They’re sitting just two spots outside the AVCA top 25 at the moment, so I would imagine that if they come out of Milwaukee with three wins, they’ll definitely be ranked come Monday afternoon.

MSU was picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, trailing by 12 points behind the Wichita State team that already beat Marquette this season, but they did get one first place vote. The MVC has a very small preseason all-conference squad, but junior outside hitter Lily Johnson was included on the list. She’s the top offensive threat for Missouri State at 4.14 kills on average, which is more than a kill more than anyone else on the team. She also has more than twice as many attacks as anyone else and is hitting just .219.

Lauren Boone (6.00 assists) and Daniele Messa (8.14 assists) handle the setting duties for the Bears, although neither of them has played in every set this season. Johnson stays active on the defensive end with more than three digs per frame, but the team is led in that department by Emily Butters, who is averaging 4.33 digs.