Only a lost first set on the road in Cedar Falls stopped #18 ranked Marquette volleyball from posting another perfect 2-0 weekend with two straight sets victories. The Golden Eagles will have to settle for a 3-0 (25-7, 25-16, 25-14) victory at home over DePaul on Friday night followed by a tightly contested 3-1 (20-25, 25-20, 25-16, 26-24) road win over Northern Iowa on Sunday afternoon.
With the wins, Marquette is now 19-4 on the season and 9-1 in Big East play with four more weekends left in the regular season. There may be a little bit of space for MU to move upwards in the new AVCA poll when it comes out on Monday afternoon. #16 Oregon lost to #2 Stanford on Sunday, while #14 USC dropped a five set thriller to #23 Washington State up in Pullman and #13 Michigan lost to #7 Illinois on Friday. Is that enough to allow the Golden Eagles to shift to #17? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see.
We didn’t have to wait very long on Friday night to see if Marquette was ready to take on DePaul. The Golden Eagles jumped out to a 7-1 lead on the Blue Demons right off the bat, and that lead quickly became 12-2. When the first set ended with DePaul only managing seven points, it was pretty much a sign of things to come. MU cooled way off from their .591 hitting percentage in the first set, but that didn’t matter much as they pulled away over time in the second and coasted to victory in the third after going up 16-6. When you have three players hit over .400 in the match on at least 10 attempts and none of them are the conference’s preseason player of the year, you’re probably doing pretty well.
There’s not much else to say about that one, other than Marquette spread the offense around, with Hope Werch and Elizabeth Orf tallying 10 kills to lead the way.
That brings us to Sunday afternoon against Northern Iowa, and it wasn’t just that Marquette lost the first set to the Panthers, snapping a streak of 24 straight sets won by the Golden Eagles. It was the manner in which they lost it. They hit the ball poorly, connecting for kills at a rate of just .089 and committing eight errors. That’s unlike MU, but even worse, they let the set slip away from them. MU jumped out to a 4-0 lead early, but needed a 4-0 run in the middle of the frame to take a 14-12 lead. That was pretty much the high point of the first set, as MU would be outscored 13-6 the rest of the way by Northern Iowa, including four of the final five points.
UNI’s 5-0 start to the fifth set immediately prompted a timeout from MU head coach Ryan Theis, and why wouldn’t it? Already down 1-0 on the road, Marquette couldn’t afford to let the second stanza get away from them early. It took determination and effort, but eventually a block by Orf and Allie Barber knotted things up at 13. That was part of a 9-1 run that tipped the scales in favor of Marquette in a major way, both in the set and in the match. MU just played the Panthers even the rest of the way in the second before getting wild with it in the third. A 6-2 early lead slowly became 16-9 in the middle, and Northern Iowa’s radio crew started wondering if it was best for the Panthers to dig into their bench and let the starters take a break to prepare for the crucial fourth set. Whether they did or didn’t is immaterial, as MU ground the Panthers down to go up 2-1.
In the fourth, no one could get an advantage one way or another. Kate Busswitz put UNI up 10-7, but Marquette answered with three straight of their own, including two aces from setter Lauren Speckman. Northern Iowa poked the lead out to two, but MU poked back with three straight to take a 16-15 lead, and then the Panthers answered with three straight of their own. We got ties at 18, 19, and 23, and after Piper Thomas put UNI in position for set point, Madeline Mosher answered to give the match one final tie at 24. Marquette followed that up with a kill from Hope Werch, and when UNI’s Kendyl Sorge mishandled a pass, that was that.
Allie Barber was back to her usual form, putting up 19 kills while hitting .357. Marquette as a team struggled to hit the ball on Sunday, getting to just .195. UNI seemed to figure out Anna Haak’s swings, coercing her into 11 errors, and while Haak had a double-double on the day, it was a “you also had 11 errors” triple-double. Jenna Rosenthal took advantage of her 6’6” height advantage over the UNI attackers and recorded six total blocks on the day.
Up Next: Hopefully, having to fight back after losing a set to a team that’s receiving votes in the AVCA poll works out in the long run for Marquette. #10 Creighton comes to Milwaukee on Friday night, and it’s a big match for a lot of reasons. Most notably, the Big East regular season title will be decided to some extent. As third place St. John’s already has four losses, it seems that Friday’s contest between 10-0 Creighton and 9-1 Marquette will determine if the Bluejays will get sole possession of first place this season, or if MU can force some kind of tiebreaker situation.