A team effort on offense was the name of the game for #14 seeded Marquette in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament. Five different women recorded at least five kills on the night as MU hit .337 as a team and swept High Point, 3-0 (25-11, 25-19, 25-15). Marquette advances to the second round after picking up the win in the first ever NCAA tournament match that the program has ever hosted and will tangle with Cincinnati on Saturday night in the second round.
The first set was incredibly lopsided, and it wasn’t because Marquette was playing exceptionally well. High Point recorded just five kills in the opening frame, but matched that with five errors of their own and a service error as well. MU looked somewhat disjointed and out of rhythm, but it worked for them. They jumped out to a 10-2 lead and never looked back. Things turned around in the second set as High Point appeared to get their legs under them. MU needed a 5-0 rally in the middle to flip the score over to a 10-9 Marquette lead, but it’s not like that was enough to stop the Panthers. A personal 3-0 run from Allie Barber was followed by a timeout by HPU and then two attack errors by the visitors, and that had Marquette up 18-14. It still wasn’t enough to put them away, but two late attack errors was. That had Marquette up 24-18, and after a service error, Elizabeth Orf hammered one down in the middle of the court to put MU up 2-0 and in full control of the match.
With the match on the line, Marquette turned the defense up. High Point had their worst hitting set of the night in the third, putting up eight kills against nine errors. When your season is on the line, it’s probably not a great plan to hit -.038. Still, though, a kill and a block in the middle of the show had pulled the Panthers within three at 13-10, and it was still competitive. Bang, Hope Werch. Bang, Allie Barber. Error by HPU’s Madison Smith. Bang, Allie Barber. Bang, Allie Barber. Bang, Allie Barber. Ace, Martha Konovodoff. 19-10. Match over. I mean, sure, not officially until the Elizabeth Orf/Anna Haak block for 25-15, but you get the point.
Barber led all attackers with 12 kills on the evening, and while that’s a quiet night for her, it’s not because High Point was defending her well. She hit a better than normal .407, so it was more an issue of the Golden Eagles picking their spots and having a bit more freedom to move the ball around for a lot of the match in order to keep the Panthers off balance. Werch, Orf, Haak, and Jenna Rosenthal all added at least five kills to the proceedings, and all but Werch hit at least .294 on the night to drive the offense to a very robust and accurate performance.
How about some highlights, courtesy of GoMarquette.com?
And some post-match commentary?
This would normally be the part where we transition to UP NEXT, but seeing as the game starts in less than 21 hours already, that means we have to tack the preview on to the back end here.
With that in mind..........
2018 NCAA TOURNAMENT SECOND ROUND
#14 Marquette Golden Eagles (27-6) vs Cincinnati Bearcats (26-7)
Thanks to years of Great Midwest Conference, Conference USA and Big East meetings, Marquette is 8-29 all time against Cincinnati. The two sides have not faced off since 2016, when Marquette picked up a 3-1 win in an event hosted by Wichita State. Before that, you have to go back to 2012 for a meeting, which was the last year of the old composition of the Big East. Marquette won that one as well for a 2-0 streak on the Bearcats. That 2012 match was the last one in an at-least-once-a-year streak between the two sides that dated all the way back to 1991.
The Bearcats advanced to the second round thanks to a 3-0 win over Illinois State at the McGuire Center on Friday evening. UC had to fend off a feisty Redbirds squad and their boisterous fans in attendance while needing to rally late in the final two sets. That win gave Cincinnati five straight W’s, with four of them coming by way of sweeps, and seven wins in their last eight matches. They went 15-3 in American Athletic Conference action, trailing only undefeated champion UCF in the standings. Cincinnati picked up their fair share of quality wins this season, going 5-3 against the RPI top 50, including away wins against Dayton and Colorado State and Friday night’s neutral win, too. They’re no strangers to NCAA tournament level opponents, and even pushed eventual #13 seed UCF to five sets in in both of their meetings this season.
On Friday night, Cincinnati was led by 20 kills from Jordan Thompson, and that shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. The 6’4” redshirt junior from Minnesota led the country in kills per set this season at 6.28 through the end of the regular season. She was the only player north of six per frame, and honestly, the only one north of 5.4 as well. Head coach Molly Alvey isn’t afraid to dump her entire offense through Thompson, as she accounted for just short of 40% of UC’s attacks in the regular season. For comparison purposes, Marquette’s Allie Barber ranked 12th in the country in kills at 4.65, but is responsible for less than 28% of the team’s attacks. Thompson is hitting .338 on the season, so it’s not just that her volume is absurd. She’s incredibly accurate for someone with that ridiculous of a burden within the system.
There are just two other hitters averaging more than two kills per set, Maria Mallon and Erica Kostelac. They tallied 12 and 14 kills respectively against Illinois State, which as you can tell, is an above average night for the both of them. Marquette is going to need to scheme to cause Thompson to have a bad night, but they can’t do so by just ignoring Mallon and Kostelac. When your #2 and #3 hitters are combining for a .561 hitting percentage on the night, as was the case for UC against ISU, things are going very right for you. MU will need to avoid that.
I’m not entirely sure what Cincinnati is doing with their setters. Looking at the stat sheet, they’ve got two averaging more than seven per set, but neither one has played more than 87 sets this season. It appears that Jade Tingelhoff missed a bunch of time early in the season and Armania Heckenmueller replaced her.... and then the two were sharing time for much of the season. However, Heckenmueller has played just once since October 28th, appearing in all three sets against Tulane on November 16th, but recording just one assist. Tingelhoff had 47 assists on Friday night, so we’ll presume that she’ll be UC’s lone setter come Saturday night as well.
The Bearcats are something of a defense by committee situation, with no one averaging more than 3.30 digs per set. That team high mark goes to senior Abby Williams, who had 12 against the Redbirds. There’s three more rotation players that average 2.4 digs/set or more, and that includes Tingelhoff at 2.40 exactly while sharing time for much of the season. It looks like everyone gets involved in blocking in one way or another, but it’s Dasha Cabarkapa leading the way at a block per set. The 6’3” middle blocker from Serbia will require some attention in terms of where she’s lining up, but remember that MU will counter with a 6’5” primary attacker on the outside and a 6’6” middle hitter on the inside.
Last, but not least, it’s important to point out that this match is of great important to Marquette as a program. It’s MU’s eighth straight NCAA tournament appearance, but it’s also MU’s eighth tournament appearance ever. Marquette has not reached the second round since 2015, making this year just the fourth time that the Golden Eagles have ever gotten this far. In their three previous appearances — 2011 vs Illinois, 2013 vs Illinois, and 2015 vs Minnesota — the Golden Eagles have only managed to win one set. However, the table has turned. In each of those matches, Marquette was the road team going up against the nationally seeded home team. Not this time. The Golden Eagles are the #14 seed and are going to be playing in their home arena.
It’s been a season of firsts and bests for Marquette already. They’ve earned a new program best ranking in the AVCA poll six times, they earned a national seed for the first time ever, and they’re hosting the NCAA tournament’s first two rounds for the first time ever. The stage is set for Ryan Theis, Allie Barber, and company to take this thing to a whole new level. All they have to do is win a home game, and boom: The first Sweet 16 in program history.
Simple as can be.