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2016 Big East Women’s Volleyball: Where Are We Now?

League play officially began on Tuesday, but Marquette kicks it off on Friday night. Let’s see what everyone’s been up to so far.

Marquette volleyball
Marquette has a lot of reasons to be excited about how their season is going so far.
Facebook.com/MarquetteVolleyball

Technically speaking, there have already been two Big East volleyball matches played. But Marquette doesn’t start their conference slate until tonight, so that’s why we’re going to do a full rundown of what every team has been doing in the non-conference section of the season.

I’m going to warn you right now, though: There is going to be a theme as we go along.

MU is going to play two matches this weekend, and this post is going to serve as the previews for those, so let’s get to the specific details of those encounters before we get any further...

Big East Match #1: at Creighton (6-6)

When: Friday, September 23, 2016, at 7pm CT
Where: D.J. Sokol Arena in Omaha, NE
Audio/Visual: The Big East Digital Network on Fox Sports Go has the video streaming, plus there’s live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB & @CreightonVB

Big East Match #2: at Providence (11-4)

When: Sunday, September 25, at 12pm CT
Where: Alumni Hall in Providence, RI
Audio/Visual: PC’s gonna make you pay for a video stream, but live stats are free.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB & @FriarVolleyball

Below you’ll find a capsule look at each of the teams in the Big East. You’ll see their current record and their national ranking according to BennettRank on HeroSports.com. Below that is each team’s statistical leaders in each of the important categories, and if you see a number in parenthesis next to it, that’s their rank in the Big East’s top 10, or, in the case of blocks, top 8. There’s also the team’s best win and worst loss, again according to BennettRank.

Got it? Good. Here we go......


Butler (11-5, #64)

Kills Leader: Anna Logan, 4.57 (#1)
Assists Leader: Makayla Ferguson, 9.79 (#7)
Digs Leader: Taylor Takeda, 3.70 (#7)
Blocks Leader: Jessica Klingensmith, 1.10 (#5)
Best Win: at #43 Iowa, 3-0
Worst Loss: vs #119 Oakland on a neutral court, 3-2

Butler’s schedule is kind of trash. They had just four top 100 opponents, and they went 1-3 against them.

Part of it’s not their fault. You get invited to whatever non-conference tournaments you get invited to, and they don’t really have any control over the other teams that end up as their opponents. Part of it is their fault, though, as the quality of opponent that they had coming into their barn for a tournament wasn’t any great shakes. The thing that’s ultimately disappointing about this is that it seems that you have two teams in the Big East (Marquette & Creighton) who are really busting their butts to be perennial NCAA tournament contenders, and the rest of the league is just kind of playing volleyball because 1) they already have a gym anyway and 2) they need to balance out their men’s sports with women’s sports somehow.

The real bummer here is that I have no idea whether I should take Anna Logan seriously as an attacker. Yes, she’s leading the Big East in kills per set, but THE DAWGS AIN’T PLAYED NOBODY PAWWWWWWWL.

Creighton (6-6, #22)

Kills Leader: Jaali Winters, 3.05
Assists Leader: Lydia Dimke, 11.11 (#2)
Digs Leader: Brittany Witt, 4.24 (#5)
Blocks Leader: Lauren Smith, 0.93
Best Win: at #34 Iowa State, 3-1
Worst Loss: vs #39 Kansas, 3-2

The Bluejays were the preseason favorite to win the Big East, and even though they’re at 6-6 and second place pick Marquette is at 10-2, I have no reason to think differently about this. At least not before Friday night’s match between the two in Omaha.

It’s not just that CU has played what is probably the most challenging non-conference schedule with just two sub-100 opponents. It’s not just that they’ve played just three sub-50 opponents. (That is not a joke.) Four of their six losses this season have come against teams that are currently ranked in the AVCA top 25. They also lost to Kentucky, who was ranked #23 at the time, and that sixth loss? A season opening five set battle on a neutral court with the same Wichita State team that beat Marquette one week later.

Two years ago, I lamented the situation of Creighton’s Jess Bird. While watching Autumn Bailey play for Marquette, I came to the realization that Bird would never really have a chance at Player of the Year honors in the Big East because Bailey would always be in front of her. Then Bailey left, and Bird was the pick as preseason POY last year.... and then she got surpassed by her own teammate, Jaali Winters, not to mention Marquette’s Taylor Louis. This season, Bird’s struggling a little bit. She’s only played in 25 of Creighton’s 45 sets on the season, but it doesn’t appear to be an injury issue. Bird has only missed one match, the home game against #3 Kansas. She’s just not in the primary rotation for head coach Kirsten Bernal Booth.

DePaul (6-6, #94)

Kills Leader: Brittany Maxwell, 3.69 (#5)
Assists Leader: Colleen Smith, 9.83 (#6)
Digs Leader: Lexi Chanos, 3.00
Blocks Leader: Brittany Maxwell, 0.77
Best Win: vs #93 USF, 3-2
Worst Loss: vs #118 Illinois-Chicago, 3-2

Shoutout to DePaul for putting the effort in. The Blue Demons went out and challenged themselves in the non-conference slate, getting half their games against top 100 foes. The end result might be that DePaul doesn’t improve on last year’s 16-15 record depending on how Big East play goes for them, but considering that they had single digit victories more often than not during this decade, they get a thumbs up for trying to push forward.

Their main struggle this season has been defense. You could probably see that coming with Maxwell and Lexi Chanos not getting into the top 10 in the league in the two defensive categories listed above. DePaul is tied for dead last in the Big East in opponent’s hitting percentage, and they’re in last by themselves in digs as the only squad averaging fewer than 12 per set. Blocking is ever so slightly better where they’re eighth and one of four teams averaging less than two blocks per set.

The offense will make them competitive, though. They have three players in the top five in the league in hitting percentage, and as pointed out above, Maxwell is top five in kills. I don’t know if it will be enough to carry them to one of the four spots in the Big East tournament in November, but I’d like to see it happen, just to reward them for their schedule.

Georgetown (4-10, 0-1 Big East, #245)

Kills Leader: Alyssa Sinnette, 3.65 (#6)
Assists Leader: Paige McKnight, 10.19 (#4)
Digs Leader: Kenzie Higareda, 4.55 (#4)
Blocks Leader: Ashlie Williams, 0.89
Best Win: vs #220 Southern Utah on a neutral floor, 3-2
Worst Loss: vs #282 Western Carolina on a neutral floor, 3-0

Georgetown’s schedule is kind of trash. They had just one top 100 opponent, and the Hoyas took a 3-0 loss against #99 Denver on the road.

Part of it’s not their fault. You get invited to whatever non-conference tournaments you get invited to, and they don’t really have any control over the other teams that end up as their opponents. Part of it is their fault, though, as the quality of opponent that they had coming into their barn for a tournament wasn’t any great shakes. The thing that’s ultimately disappointing about this is that it seems that you have two teams in the Big East (Marquette & Creighton) who are really busting their butts to be perennial NCAA tournament contenders, and the rest of the league is just kind of playing volleyball because 1) they already have a gym anyway and 2) they need to balance out their men’s sports with women’s sports somehow.

Making things even worse for Georgetown is that they were really bad against their not very good schedule. I was kind of thinking that the Hoyas might be up to something this year, as they had freshmen leading the way on attack, defense, and setting last year. It doesn’t seem to be happening. Sinnette, McKnight, and Higareda are performing well individually, but somehow that’s not turning into team success.

Marquette (10-2, #18)

Kills Leader: Taylor Louis, 4.37 (#2)
Assists Leader: Sara Blasier, 9.52 (#8)
Digs Leader: Lauren Houg, 5.30 (#1)
Blocks Leader: Jenna Rosenthal, 1.09 (#6)
Best Win: at #21 USC, 3-1
Worst Loss: vs #40 Santa Clara on a neutral floor, 3-1

It’s clear that Marquette is at worst the #2 team in the Big East this season. Right now, the AVCA voters actually think the Golden Eagles are the best team in the league, but until I see MU vs Creighton, I can’t get completely behind that idea. The Golden Eagles have lost five straight matches to the Jays, so for them, the path to a Big East title definitely runs through Omaha even if Butler is hosting the tournament this year.

If you want to be encouraged about Marquette’s chances at a Big East title, look no further than their record against opponents in common with Creighton. In a weird fit of luck, the two squads have played four of the same opponents in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Creighton is 1-3 in those matches, while Marquette is 3-1.

Megan Niemann Watch: After a six assisted block performance against Missouri State in MU’s most recent match, Niemann needs just two more to tie the program record of 364 held by both Martha Meyer (1994-97) and Rabbecka Gonyo (2007-10). Three more blocks of any kind will push her to 400 for her career, and Meyer’s record of 433 is definitely in sight.

Lauren Houg Watch: The senior from Plymouth, Minnesota, is now third all-time on Marquette’s digs list. At 1,437, Houg is well clear of Erin Freer at 1,405, but it’s going to be a while before she gets to #2. Even at five digs per set, it’ll take Houg five or six matches to catch up to Jamie Mueller at 1,567.

Providence (12-4, #239)

Kills Leader: Megan Onyundo, 3.11 (#10)
Assists Leader: Chicyia Clark, 9.89 (#5)
Digs Leader: Michelle Cruz, 5.13 (#3)
Blocks Leader: Allison Impellizeri, 1.17 (#3)
Best Win: vs #252 La Salle, 3-1
Worst Loss: vs #292 Quinnipiac, 3-2

Providence’s schedule is kind of trash. They had zero top 150 opponents. None. They only had one top 200 opponent, and they lost 3-0 to #171 San Jose State out in California.

Part of it’s not their fault. You get invited to whatever non-conference tournaments you get invited to, and they don’t really have any control over the other teams that end up as their opponents. Part of it is their fault, though, as the quality of opponent that they had coming into their barn for a tournament wasn’t any great shakes. The thing that’s ultimately disappointing about this is that it seems that you have two teams in the Big East (Marquette & Creighton) who are really busting their butts to be perennial NCAA tournament contenders, and the rest of the league is just kind of playing volleyball because 1) they already have a gym anyway and 2) they need to balance out their men’s sports with women’s sports somehow.

Part of me says I shouldn’t be too mean to the Friars. This is just their third season back in the Big East after spending a long stretch as an independent and then in the America East. 12 wins is already an improvement on their 10-22 campaign in 2015 where they went 1-17 in Big East action. We’ll see how things go this time around for them.

St. John’s (10-4, 1-0 Big East, #141)

Kills Leader: Margherita Bianchin, 3.36 (#7)
Assists Leader: Erica Di Maulo, 10.40 (#3)
Digs Leader: Erica Di Maulo, 2.38
Blocks Leader: Danisha Moss, 1.55 (#1)
Best Win: at #238 San Francisco, 3-0
Worst Loss: at #195 Fairfield, 3-2

St. John’s schedule is kind of trash. They had just two top 100 opponents (losses to #55 UC-Santa Barbara & #92 Connecticut), just two top 150 opponents (lost to #136 Albany) and just three top 200 opponents (lost to #192 Fairfield).

Part of it’s not their fault. You get invited to whatever non-conference tournaments you get invited to, and they don’t really have any control over the other teams that end up as their opponents. Part of it is their fault, though, as the quality of opponent that they had coming into their barn for a tournament wasn’t any great shakes. The thing that’s ultimately disappointing about this is that it seems that you have two teams in the Big East (Marquette & Creighton) who are really busting their butts to be perennial NCAA tournament contenders, and the rest of the league is just kind of playing volleyball because 1) they already have a gym anyway and 2) they need to balance out their men’s sports with women’s sports somehow.

For what it’s worth, the Red Storm are incredibly young. They have five freshmen on the roster and two sophomores who came into the season with very little collegiate experience. Still this team is a long way from the Karin Palgutova and Aleksandra Wachowicz teams of the past few years where you could at least count on St. John’s to have players who were competing for All-Big East team spots. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a setter also leading a team in digs, but I do know that’s either bad for your offense or bad for your defense. Maybe both.

Seton Hall (6-8, 0-1 Big East, #177)

Kills Leader: Danielle Schroeder, 3.00
Assists Leader: Sophia Coffey, 6.88 (#9)
Digs Leader: Tessa Fournier, 5.29 (#2)
Blocks Leader: Haylee Gasser, 1.14 (#4)
Best Win: vs #96 Illinois State on a neutral floor, 3-1
Worst Loss: vs #209 George Washington, 3-1

Seton Hall’s schedule is kind of trash, but it’s actually less trash than a lot of teams in the Big East. They’ve played five top 100 opponents, although that’s only because they lucked into a Big East match vs Villanova. The Pirates are unfortunately just 1-4 in those contests, and the lone win was over #96 Illinois State.

Part of it’s not their fault. You get invited to whatever non-conference tournaments you get invited to, and they don’t really have any control over the other teams that end up as their opponents. Part of it is their fault, though, as the quality of opponent that they had coming into their barn for a tournament wasn’t any great shakes. The thing that’s ultimately disappointing about this is that it seems that you have two teams in the Big East (Marquette & Creighton) who are really busting their butts to be perennial NCAA tournament contenders, and the rest of the league is just kind of playing volleyball because 1) they already have a gym anyway and 2) they need to balance out their men’s sports with women’s sports somehow.

Villanova (10-4, 1-0 Big East, #75)

Kills Leader: Allie Loitz, 3.89 (#4)
Assists Leader: Emma Decker, 11.65 (#1)
Digs Leader: Allison Fitzgerald, 3.50 (#8)
Blocks Leader: Amanda Pedersen-Henry, 1.00 (#8)
Best Win: vs #59 Florida Gulf Coast on a neutral floor, 3-0
Worst Loss: at #111 Seattle, 3-1

Villanova’s schedule is kind of trash. They had just three top 100 opponents, ending up with just a 1-2 record against them.

Of all the teams in the Big East, they’re the least culpable in their terrible schedule. You get invited to whatever non-conference tournaments you get invited to, and they don’t really have any control over the other teams that end up as their opponents. Villanova has only played two home matches this season, and one of them was their Big East opener earlier this week. So thumbs up for leaving home a whole bunch and another thumbs up for picking up wins on the road so far this season, but thumbs down for the tournaments that the Wildcats picked to play.

As was the case with Butler’s Anna Logan, I’m not sure how serious to take Emma Decker’s assist rate. The freshman from Illinois leads the Big East in helpers, averaging more than half an assist more than Creighton’s Lydia Dimke. The difference between the two, of course, is that the Jays have played one of the best schedules in the country so far, while Villanova has been stacking up 3-0 wins over bottom 150 competition (8 of them, including Tuesday’s W vs Seton Hall).

Xavier (6-7, #102)

Kills Leader: Abbey Bessler, 3.90 (#3)
Assists Leader: Mackenzi Humm, 5.88 (#10)
Digs Leader: Meredith Klare, 3.84 (#6)
Blocks Leader: Alexis Newsome, 1.18 (#2)
Best Win: vs #48 Missouri State on a neutral floor, 3-2
Worst Loss: at #181 Western Michigan, 3-1

I guess Xavier didn’t read the fine print on the contract with Mephisto that earned Abbey Bessler Big East Player of the Year honors in 2015 over both Creighton’s Jaali Winters and Marquette’s Taylor Louis. (Aside: I really enjoy that there’s just as good of a case for Winters as there is for Louis so I don’t have to sound like a total homer when pointing out Bessler’s ridiculous victory.) The Musketeers went 14-4 in Big East play a year ago to finish with the #3 seed in the conference tournament, but now they’re scuffling along in the non-con portion of the schedule.

This is where we should probably point out that Xavier was 4-7 in non-conference matches a year ago. We can’t lump them in with the rest of the league that’s compiling gaudy records with schedules against the bottom half of the country. Xavier’s trying, that’s clear. They’ve played four top 50 opponents (1-3) and six top 100 foes (2-4). They have just one sub-200 opponent on the slate and, to their credit, they’ve yet to play a match at Cintas Center in Cincinnati this season. They almost made it all the way to October without a home game, as they play Creighton on September 30th in their first home Big East fixture. We’ll have to wait and see if Xavier can repeat their conference slate bounce back this season.

It’s important to point out that Xavier is not having problems because Mackenzi Humm is bad at setting. Far from it, in fact, she’s probably pretty good. However, she’s sharing time with McKena Estes, who averages 5.29 assists for the Musketeers. Both women have played in every single set this season, although Humm gets the starting nod each time. As a team, Xavier ranks #4 in the Big East in assists, but they’re only 0.13 assists per set off the leading pace of Villanova.