THEY DID IT!
Marquette volleyball took full advantage of the first national seeding in program history and the first NCAA tournament home games in program history, picking up two straight set victories, including the 3-0 (25-19, 25-21, 25-16) win over Cincinnati on Saturday night. With the win over the Bearcats, Marquette’s season of firsts and bests gets to continue on for at least one more match, as the Golden Eagles have advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history!
I mean, think about what has been accomplished here.
Yes, this is Marquette’s eighth consecutive NCAA tournament, which is an incredibly impressive streak by any measure. It’s also the eighth tournament appearance in program history. Ever. 2011-2018 is the absolute high water mark of the entire volleyball program at Marquette, it’s not even a debate. Back in 2010, Marquette had never made the NCAA tournament at all and now, they are one of the 16 teams left standing in the quest for the 2018 national championship.
The fact that Marquette made a coaching change in the middle of that eight year run and hasn’t missed a beat just makes it all the crazier.
The match. Yes. The Bearcats. Right.
The headline bout between Cincinnati’s Jordan Thompson, the most prolific attacker in the entire country, and Marquette’s Allie Barber, ranking 12th in the country in kills, did not disappoint, and it did not disappoint from the opening set. As the two teams made their way through a rousingly competitive first frame, both Thompson and Barber were big reasons why the match was so close. Barber had seven kills, which is a hell of a performance for her, but Thompson, who averages over six kills a set, racked up eight for the Bearcats. She managed to best Barber and still best her own personal average, too. As effective as Thompson was, though, Marquette got the advantage on Cincinnati late in the set when Hope Werch put down a kill to make it her turn to serve, and then promptly threw down two aces. Add a kill from Anna Haak, and Marquette had gotten out to a 17-12 lead. Cincinnati would score three of their own right back, but wouldn’t score two in a row again as a block from Jenna Rosenthal and Ellie Koontz gave MU the win.
For a moment there in the second set, it looked like Cincinnati was going to rally to tie the match up at a set each. Marquette had jumped out to an 8-3 lead early, which seemed like a good sign. Long term, it was, but short term it meant nothing. A 5-1 run from Cincinnati had the lead back down to just one after a kill from Erica Kostelac, and things got interesting. MU would get the lead back to five points, and even pushed it to six at 21-15, but after the run from the Bearcats, it never felt safe, not until an attack error from Kostelac ended UC’s chances at staving off a second set loss.
That had Marquette up 2-0, and that itself was a footnote to history. The Golden Eagles had never won two sets in a second round tourney match before Saturday night. In fact, Marquette had never won two sets total in three previous second round matches. This was uncharted territory for the program, so there was a teensy hint of trepidation as to what lay around the corner.
Turns out, what was around that corner was pain and misery for the Bearcats. The Golden Eagles jumped out to leads of 6-1 and 8-2 early and eventually 12-6 before Cincinnati ripped off five straight to pull within one. That’s when Marquette marched right over, grabbed the door sturdily, and slammed it in Cincinnati’s face. Block, Barber kill, two errors by the Bearcats, block, kill by Anna Haak, and TA-DA, Marquette’s up 18-11. After UC broke the run, MU popped off the next three points, and it was 21-12. From there, it was just a matter of playing out the string, and let it be recorded throughout history that it was a kill from senior hitter Anna Haak that gave Marquette the match point and the win.
Barber led the way for Marquette with 18 kills while hitting .400. She ends up besting Thompson at her own game, as the Bearcats’ offensive leader finished with only 16 kills. After eight in the opening set, Marquette adjusted to what she can do and only allowed her to pick up eight more in the final two frames. In addition to the match winning kill, Haak had six total on the night, but she also led the team in digs with 12. It’s a rare circumstance where Martha Konovodoff (7 digs here) doesn’t lead Marquette, but that may have been a function of Cincinnati running so much of their offense through Thompson. When one player gets 49% of your attacks (49/100 here), she gets to dictate a lot of where the ball goes, and that means she can shy away from MU’s libero as much as she can.
How about some highlights, courtesy of GoMarquette.com?
And in case all you want is the game winning kill:
We are into uncharted territory. The round of 16 awaits. #NCAAVB pic.twitter.com/rn0uB4A24Z— Marquette Volleyball (@MarquetteVB) December 2, 2018
Up Next: It appears that Marquette will be headed to Champaign, Illinois for the Sweet 16. Illinois bested Louisville in the second round on Saturday night to advance, and as the #3 national seed, the Fighting Illini (30-3) are the best team left standing in Marquette’s region and thus the apparent host school. They’ll also be Marquette’s opponent for the next round according to the NCAA’s bracket. The winner of that match will advance to the Elite Eight to face either #6 seeded Wisconsin or the winner of #11 USC and San Diego, which is still underway as I type this. The Trojans are down 1-0 already, so we’ll see what happens there.
Dates and times are still not set in stone, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for the pertinent details.