It’s kind of a big and important weekend for Marquette Golden Eagles volleyball.
The NCAA releases team sheets every Monday morning. These are the same team sheets that you hear when it’s basketball tournament selection time, except for volleyball. They’re publicly available (and historically archived, by the way) right here.
This past Monday’s team sheets were the third iteration of the season, as the NCAA waits a bit to actually let some data accumulate before starting to calculate RPI and so forth. When the first sheets of the year were published, Marquette had an RPI of #13 and a strength of schedule of #12. At the time, the Golden Eagles were 12-4 overall and 3-1 in Big East play.
Since then, Marquette has won five straight Big East contests, raising their records to 17-4 and 8-1, all without dropping a single set. How’s the ol’ RPI and SOS doing after those wins?
Strength of Schedule: #44
Yep. Five straight wins, a loss of ten spots in the RPI and a loss of 32 spots in strength of schedule. The Big East is an absolute anchor of a conference this season, as every team that’s not Marquette or Creighton are Quadrant 4 (sub-100) teams. St. John’s is the best at #116, while Providence is the worst at #259.
Hey, if you’re angry about this right now, think about how mad Creighton is. The Bluejays have a win over Marquette that’s about ready to fall from Quadrant 1 (1-25) to Quadrant 2 (26-50) while all MU does is beat everyone in the league that’s not the Jays. That stinks.
AAAAAAAAAANYWAY, this is all a big deal because MU head coach Ryan Theis is an evil genius and worked in an extra non-conference match for the Golden Eagles in the middle of league play. Thanks to the travel partner system, Marquette has just one Big East match this weekend because it’s their turn to play their travel partner. With the league scheduling that match for Friday, Theis got Northern Iowa on the horn and arranged for the Golden Eagles to head to Cedar Falls for a match on Sunday afternoon.
Why is that a big deal?
Northern Iowa, while they sit just outside the AVCA top 25, is currently sitting at #22 in the RPI.
There is an ever so small hole in the fence for Marquette to slip through and earn a top 16 seed in the NCAA tournament this season. So far, they’ve held up their end of the deal, picking up a major victory against USC and only suffering “quality losses.” They probably need to run the table at least to the Big East title match to pull it off, and quite honestly, they probably need to win the tournament, preferably by beating Creighton a second time.
Part of running the table is locking up this high quality road victory against the Panthers on Sunday.
Like I said, kind of big and important.
Big East Match #10: vs DePaul Blue Demons (5-15, 3-6 Big East)
Marquette is 32-29 all-time against DePaul, which includes MU’s three-set victory earlier this season. In fact, that includes all of the 15 match winning streak that Marquette is on, including each of the last four all by straight sets.
It’s been just two weeks since these two squads squared off in Chicago, so the Blue Demons have only played three matches since then. They beat Xavier in a mid-week contest right after losing to Marquette, and then lost both ends of a trip out east to face Seton Hall and St. John’s. It was kind of a weird trip, as they went down in straight sets to the Pirates, but made the Johnnies rally from down 0-2 to take the five set win.
This should, in theory, be another straight sets victory for the Golden Eagles. DePaul is DFL in the Big East in both hitting percentage and opponent’s hitting percentage. To make that worse for DePaul, Marquette is the best hitting team in the conference. Between MU’s precise offense and DePaul’s ability to make the other team look very good on offense, this should be a romp.
Emma Price is what passes for an offensive leader around these parts, averaging 2.58 kills per set. The offense is heavily reliant on her, as she’s taken more than a hundred more swings than anyone else on the squad. Still, Claire Anderson and Avarie Evans-Allen are both averaging more than two kills a set, so that gives the Blue Demons options. MU will also have to keep an eye on Donna Brown here. While she averages only 1.72 kills/set, she popped off for 11 in the first meeting this season.
DePaul uses a two-setter rotation, with Natalie Hayward (5.11 assists/set) and Katie Dolan (4.36) going back and forth. Maybe it’s just a quinkydink, but Dolan qualifies as the primary setter to a certain extent as she has played one more set than Hayward. Isabelle Banez handles the libero duties, averaging 4.76 digs per frame.
Match #23: at RV Northern Iowa Panthers (15-6, 9-0 Missouri Valley)
Date: Sunday, October 21, 2018
Time: 2pm Central
Location: McLeod Center, Cedar Falls, IA
Video Streaming: ESPN+, which will require a subscription.
Audio Streaming: UNIPanthers.com
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
Marquette is just 2-4 all time against Northern Iowa. The most recent meeting came in the 2015 NCAA tournament, where MU took a 3-2 victory to advance to the second round. Marquette’s only other victory against the Panthers came waaaaaay back in 1979, which is before the Golden Eagles officially joined Division 1.
This match is on Sunday, with the Panthers hosting Drake on Friday night, so for now, we can say that UNI is on a heater, having won their first nine Missouri Valley Conference matches, and they’ve won 13 straight matches against unranked opponents. Unfortunately for them, their last two non-con contests were against #8 Illinois and #10 Creighton, both straight sets losses.
Northern Iowa plays well on both sides, hitting a solid .244 as a team, but allowing opponents to hit just .200. They also enjoy a strong home court advantage, averaging over 2,600 fans this season, although that is being propped up by a nearly sell-out crowd in the McLeod Center of 6,415 when Iowa State came to town for the home opener. Still, they’ve been pulling in around 2,000 people on the regular this season, and given MU’s ranking, I’d imagine that this will be a hostile environment for the Golden Eagles. Pretty much exactly what Ryan Theis was hoping for, I presume.
Karlie Taylor is the focal point of the UNI offense, averaging 4.78 kills per set. If you’ve been paying attention, then you’ve already realized that Taylor is one of just 11 women in the country averaging more kills than MU’s Allie Barber (4.59/set). Barber executes with precision (.354 hitting percentage) thanks to her 6’5” frame, but the 5’11” Taylor gets there by volume, hitting just .217 on the year. Taylor has help, with Piper Thomas (3.55) and Jaydlin Seehase (3.00) both averaging north of three kills per set.
Rachel Koop will handle the setting duties for the Panthers, racking up 11.72 helpers per frame. If that sounds like a lot to you, it is! Koop ranks sixth in the country in that department. Kendyl Sorge is the libero, averaging 4.31 digs per frame, but Taylor of all people is second on the team, getting behind three digs per set as well.