Just a little over a week after Marquette had assumed full and total control over the Big East standings, things are murky once again. Villanova handed MU their first conference loss of the season on Saturday afternoon, beating Marquette 3-2 (22-25, 25-15, 25-21, 20-25, 9-15). Marquette righted the ship on Sunday afternoon with a quick 72 minute 3-0 (25-17, 25-12, 25-16) sweep of Georgetown.
As it stands now, Marquette is 8-1 in Big East action and 14-6 overall. That gives the Golden Eagles just a half-game lead over 7-1 Creighton, even though the Bluejays are ranked #17 in the country.
If there was a loss that Marquette could absorb this season after failing to record a quality win in the non-conference section of the schedule that didn’t involve D.J. Sokol Arena in Omaha, it was probably the road trip to face Villanova. So in that case, dropping a five setter to the Wildcats and their #67 RPI isn’t the worst thing in the universe. The problem is that it’s the second time this season that Marquette has had a lead and ended up dumping the match in five sets. Against Wichita State, MU was up 2-0 before falling in five, out on the Main Line on Saturday, it was a 2-1 lead. All they needed to do was tighten down one more set, and they’d have the win. Instead, they take a heartbreaker of a loss.
Things started off on the wrong foot for Marquette on Saturday, as they dropped the opening set to Villanova. That was the first set loss for Marquette after 12 straight victories dating back to September 27th against Xavier. It’s not like Marquette played badly, as they hit .351 in the opening frame. Instead, it was Villanova that came out a house afire and crushed kills at a .417 clip. It was a closely contested affair, and VU took the final three points to lock up the win. The second set was more of what we’ve expected to see from the Golden Eagles in the past two weeks: domination. MU wiped out an 8-4 Nova lead with a 5-0 run and then outscored VU 16-7 the rest of the way. The Wildcats handed the final two points of the set to Marquette on errors, which is kind of the story of the frame.
The third set looked like things were reverting back to the first with a pretty close battle. After an attack error by MU’s Elizabeth Orf brought Villanova within one at 14-13, a 7-1 run by Marquette capped off by a kill from Anna Haak had things firmly in MU’s direction. Or so it seemed for a moment. Villanova pulled within three on a handling error by Lauren Speckman, and then made it 23-21 on a kill from Emma Decker. Allie Barber reasserted herself, though, hammering down two of her 25 kills to put Marquette up 2-1 and on the verge of victory.
That victory never came. Nova turned a 7-6 Marquette lead into an 18-11 Wildcats advantage in the fourth set, and while a Madeline Mosher ace made it 22-20 late, VU popped off a 3-0 run to push things to a decisive fifth set. “Decisive fifth set” is also a quality descriptor for how Villanova played. The Wildcats hit .320 against just .050 for Marquette as VU scored 11 of the final 15 points of the match and hurried away from MU as much as you can when you’re only playing to 15.
As mentioned above, Sunday’s contest against Georgetown was a much simpler ride for the Golden Eagles. Marquette hit .411 on the afternoon, while holding the Hoyas to just .202. The match flow graphs on the GameTracker are essentially just large gold bars.
A kill from Elizabeth Orf put Marquette up 10-6 early in the first set, and that turned into 14-9, then 16-10, and then a kill from Anna Haak and a GU hitting error wrapped that one up quick. The second went even faster, with MU scoring the first two points and never even being tied with the Hoyas the rest of the way. For a brief moment, it looked like Marquette was going to be able to keep Georgetown in single digits when a kill by Madeline Mosher made it 24-9, but two kills and a block from the Hoyas ruined that dream before Jenna Rosenthal ended their misery.
Georgetown put up a fight early in the third set, taking a 7-4 lead in the early going. However, a GU attack error put Marquette up for good at 11-10, and the Golden Eagles closed things out on a 10-2 run.
Both matches featured outstanding play from Allie Barber as she put up 25 and 15 kills respectively to average five kills per set right on the nose. Lauren Speckman had a great weekend, too, finishing the eight sets with 97 assists which actually brought her per set average down to 12.28 on the season.
Up Next: Marquette returns to the friendly confines of the McGuire Center next weekend to host Xavier on Friday and Butler on Saturday. Even though the Musketeers took a set from MU earlier this season, they have been struggling with a league record of just 2-7. Butler finds themselves in contention for a Big East tournament spot, but at 5-4, they still trail fourth place Villanova for that final spot at the moment.