Well, it had to end at some point, and the math of it said that it was probably going to end in a loss.
That was the case for Marquette volleyball on Friday afternoon, as the #14 nationally seeded Golden Eagles lost 3-0 (25-19, 25-21, 25-16) to #3 seed Illinois at Huff Hall on Illinois’ campus. It was Marquette’s first ever appearance in the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament, and with the Golden Eagles finishing the year with a record of 28-7, it’s near impossible to even think of this loss as a disappointment. It’s the most wins in a season under head coach Ryan Theis and the most wins since the program moved to Division 1 in 1986.
As for Friday’s competition, Marquette got off on the wrong foot and never really recovered. The Illini took an 8-2 lead in the first set and used that early lead to help wear down the Golden Eagles. Marquette would eventually pull within one at 15-14 on a Hope Werch kill, but that’s as close as they would get. Back-to-back errors by the Golden Eagles let Illinois get a three point advantage, and a late 4-0 burst tilted things their way for good.
From a hitting perspective, that was Marquette’s best performance of the day. They hit .294 in the opening frame, and then went backwards from there. .273 in the second and .138 in the third. The MU defense came alive after allowing Illinois to hit .552 in the first and didn’t allow them above .275 in the final two sets, but it wouldn’t be enough. A 5-1 run early in the second capped by a kill from Ashlyn Fleming tipped things from a 5-all tie to a 10-6 U of I lead, but Marquette would rally. They got an error by Illinois’ star attacker Jacqueline Quade to even it out at 19, and a kill by Jenna Rosenthal made it 20-all a few moments later. The Golden Eagles could see the finish line, but three kills by the Illini and two errors by MU wrapped things up.
The wheels came off early in the third for Marquette as they found themselves needing to win three straight sets to rally and win in five. Fleming capped a 6-1 run with a kill to put Illinois up 10-4, and that was pretty much that. MU answered Fleming’s kill with two points of their own, but they wouldn’t score two straight again until an error of Illinois’ Beth Prince made the score 21-14. As you can tell from that, it was pretty much over. Allie Barber officially recorded MU’s final kill of the year, and Ali Bastianelli followed that up with the game-winning kill.
Barber ended up finishing with a match high 14 kills as both side spread the offense around a bit. She hit .379 on the day as the Illini couldn’t really do much to slow her down. While they couldn’t affect Barber, they were able to take Anna Haak out of action. She had just five kills in the match and hit .091. Marquette was at their best this season when Haak was hitting north of .250, and that just wasn’t in the cards here. Jenna Rosenthal posted seven kills and added a solo stuff and two assisted blocks to expand her Marquette records for total blocks and assisted blocks one final time.
With that in mind, we have to wrap up this recap with a very big THANK YOU to Marquette’s three seniors: Anna Haak, Abby Julian, and Jenna Rosenthal. Haak has only been with Marquette for the past two seasons after transferring from Miami, but it’s hard to underrate her contributions to the team given what MU has accomplished in those two seasons. Julian has been a bit player for Ryan Theis, but that designation sometimes means being thrust into service in big moments, and she’s never shied away from the magnitude of the moment. As a redshirt senior, Rosenthal has had the longest impact on the program, and in fact connects the team back to Bond Shymansky as he was the one to recruit her to Marquette. After sitting out during Theis’ first season in Milwaukee, the Fond du Lac native immediately made her presence felt at the net, recording the #2 and #3 best assisted blocks seasons in program history in her first two seasons. Her role evolved as she gained experience, and while the totals have slowed down, Rosenthal broke Meghan Niemann’s records for total blocks and assisted blocks earlier this season in addition to clearing the 1,000 career kill mark.
While they’ve all had different roles for the Golden Eagles, they’ve all played their roles to the best of their abilities, and I’m thrilled that Haak, Julian, and Rosenthal can go out on the high note of the best season in program history. Hats off to you, ladies, and Marquette fans everywhere wish you nothing but the best in whatever waits for you next.