Marquette volleyball couldn’t hold onto a 1-0 lead against Creighton on Saturday afternoon, and the #2 seeded Golden Eagles lost to the top seeded Bluejays in the Big East title match for the second consecutive season. The final was 3-1 (28-26, 22-25, 21-25, 21-25) as Creighton won their fifth straight Big East tournament title. It has been just Marquette and Creighton to win the league tournament since The Reformation with MU taking the first one back in 2013 and the Jays hoisting the trophy in every year since.
As somewhat expected, this match ended up coming down to which defense was going to be able to perform better. Marquette and Creighton were the top two hitting offenses in the conference this season in terms of hitting percentages, so the ferocity of the attacks were not going to be in question. However, Creighton was the best hitting defense in the league, and while Marquette wasn’t bad, they just weren’t on the Jays’ level this season. That played itself out over four sets on Saturday afternoon, with Creighton hitting .275 for the match and dropping below .220 just once. On the other end of the court, Marquette hit .222 as a team, but it was a steady descent downwards as the Jays started to get underneath more and more of Marquette’s attacks. MU hit .314 in the opener, but failed to get to .300 in any other set, slowly falling downwards with each successive set before settling at .073 in the fourth.
Still, even with Marquette’s struggles to stay consistent in the hitting department, they were never out of the match. After needing extra points to win the first set, MU fell behind 16-5 in the second set. That was an ominous moment, but the Golden Eagles scrapped their way back in. A 7-0 run late altered the game, taking the score from 20-10 and seemingly ending quickly to 20-17 and very much in doubt. The two sides traded points from there, and for a moment, it looked like Creighton was about to falter under the pressure. Back to back attack errors from Taryn Kloth and Jaali Winters, CU’s two best hitters, suddenly had Marquette within two at 24-22. Still, it was set point for the Jays, even after the errors, and Kloth was able to fight back and close it out.
The rally may have tipped some enthusiasm in Marquette’s direction as the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the third. Two 5-0 runs by Creighton spelled the difference in the match, as they answered that lead with one to tie it at nine, and then later on the other run tilted a 19-18 Marquette lead back towards the Jays. That had CU up 23-19 and all they had to do to win and push MU to the brink was trade points.
The fourth set may have been settled earlier than the 25-21 score indicates. A setting error by Sarah Rose put Creighton up 14-8 and prompted a Marquette timeout, but that may have really been the nail in MU’s coffin in retrospect. Marquette’s one hell of a volleyball team, though, and a solo stuff by Jenna Rosenthal followed by a kill from Ellie Koontz made it a 21-18 game, and there was a seam of daylight for Marquette to hit and force a fifth set. It didn’t happen, though, and CU got the title clinching kill from Kloth.
Marquette has thrived all season on absurdly accurate hitting across the board, and they just didn’t have it on Saturday. Allie Barber has led the Big East in kills and points all season while being one of the leaders in hitting percentage, but her 20 kills in the match came while she hit just .262. There’s nothing wrong with hitting .262, that’s just not the kind of performance that has driven MU to as many sweeps as they’ve racked up this season. Anna Haak has had a superb senior season, hitting .248 on the year. She just didn’t have it in this one, or rather, perhaps the Jays didn’t let her get on track, hitting .128. Haak still put up 16 digs on the back end, so while she wasn’t laying down kills like she can, she didn’t let that affect whatever else she was doing.
Winters and Kloth ended up tying for the Creighton lead in kills at 19 each and Winters added 17 digs on the evening, including a leaping reaching one late in the fourth that ultimately may have shut the door on Marquette’s chances at forcing a fifth set. It was a great all-around game from a truly great all-around player who is well deserving of her crown as the 2018 Big East Player of the Year.
Up Next: Marquette will find out their NCAA tournament destination on Sunday night. The NCAA Volleyball Selection Show will air on ESPNU starting at 7:30pm Central time. As of last Monday, Marquette was the #15 team in the NCAA’s RPI calculation, so there’s no doubt that the Golden Eagles will earn an at-large bid to the 64 team event. The question is merely where they will play their first game. As a top 16 RPI team, Marquette would have to be in the conversation to be one of the 16 national seeds in the tournament and thus one of the 16 hosts for the first two rounds, but there’s now two mitigating factors. There’s the loss to RPI #16 Creighton, although that was on the road officially, so perhaps that ends up being a net benefit for MU. There’s also the current status of the McGuire Center after a car careened through the northern doors on 12th Street and all the way out onto the basketball court. If the McGuire Center isn’t capable of hosting any events for a week or two, that takes MU out of the equation as a host. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.....