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2018 Marquette Volleyball Preview: Checking In With The Returning Players

The Golden Eagles return nearly every notable player from last season, so we’ve got quite a few to sort through here.

Hope Werch
Hope Werch and the Golden Eagles have their eyes set on a Big East title in 2018.
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We continue to creep closer and closer to the start of the women’s volleyball season next week at the Baylor Invitational. Last week, we took a look at what the freshmen bring to the table in 2018. Today, we explore the depth on Marquette‘s roster in terms of the returning players. It’s a deep roster, as MU returns all five women who averaged at least a kill per set and four of the five that averaged at least a dig per set.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Outside Hitters

We start our look at the team with the hitters not because they’re the most important names on the team because of their offensive contributions, but because when the Big East Preseason Player of the Year is on your roster, that’s where you start. Allie Barber wrecked shop as a sophomore last season, leading the league in both kills and points, where she was the only player averaging over five points per set. Barber also finished the season ranked eighth in the Big East in hitting percentage at .328. It’s usually difficult for someone who carries as much of the offensive load as the 6’5” Barber (she had nearly 31% of MU’s total attacks) to finish as high in the hitting percentage department as she did. She did, though, and that’s probably a big reason why she was named Big East Player of the Year at the end of last season. The crazy part about the whole thing? If you wanted to, you could say that Barber was the best bench player in the league last season. The Cedarburg native only started in 11 of Marquette’s 32 matches last season. In any case, as she’s only a junior this season, it’s Allie Barber’s world, and the rest of the Big East is just living in it.

As uniquely talented as Barber is, she’s not alone out there at the pins. Anna Haak was Marquette’s #2 attacker last year both in terms of total attempts and kills per set, as she averaged 2.85 kills. I’m somewhat surprised that Haak didn’t get more attention from the league office last year, as she also averaged just short of three digs per set and her 0.42 blocks/set mark is nothing to sneeze at, either. Instead, it’s Hope Werch who finds herself on the preseason all-Big East squad. Werch was the Big East Freshman of the Year last year, averaging 2.18 kills and 2.75 digs. It’s not like Werch has a massive accuracy advantage on Haak, hitting .220 last season against Haak’s .211. While Marquette was incredibly successful last season, you could definitely make the argument that the Golden Eagles will be benefitted from both women dropping their strikes in a little more frequently.

Madeline Mosher rounds out MU’s group of hitters. The Waterloo product saw her playing time get cut by more than half between her freshman year and sophomore year, going from 119 sets played to just 53 in 2017. Part of that is head coach Ryan Theis turning the keys over to Barber and part of that is the addition of Haak via transfer. She’s a solid player and will likely provide a role off the bench in 2018. She’s going to need to hit better than the .125 she posted last season if she wants to fend off Ellie Koontz from the incoming recruiting class.

Middle Hitters/Blockers

There’s only three middles of any variety on the roster, so we’ll deal with the one hitter and two blockers at the same time. In a way, it’s kind of funny that Marquette lists Jenna Rosenthal as a middle hitter, as she had the team lead in blocks last season at 1.07 per set. That was also the fifth best mark in the conference with only six women averaging more than a block per frame. With that said, the 6’6” Rosenthal deserves her tag as a hitter as well. She finished last season third on the team in kills at 2.55 per frame and she was MU’s most accurate attacker, hitting .330 for the season. Rosenthal remains a volleyball cheat code, providing Marquette with a dimension that very few other teams can match. Any attacks coming through while she’s on the court are going to have to be adjusted for her ability to bounce into the air for a block, and any ball sent over on a free return is always at risk to be quickly dumped back to the floor thanks to her natural height allowing her an advantage to play them quickly and confidently. There’s a reason why she’s been on the all-Big East First Team each of the past two seasons and preseason all-conference last year and this year. Oh, yeah, one more thing: She’s going to break Marquette’s records for assisted blocks (42 away) and total blocks (35 away) this season.

Rosenthal will be joined up front more often than not by Elizabeth Orf. The Saint Louis native started all 32 matches as a freshman last year, and there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue in 2018. The 6’3” Orf didn’t make her presence felt all that much on offense, but she did average 1.21 kills while hitting .299. She did make an impact on defense, though, finishing second on the team behind Rosenthal with 0.78 blocks per set. She was the only other Golden Eagle north of half a block per frame, so you can see why the coaching staff likes her so much. The primary difference between Orf and Rosenthal comes in the service department, where Rosenthal led the team in aces, while it appears that Orf was kept away from the stripe. The official stat page doesn’t list service attempts, just aces and errors. Orf has neither. I can’t recall if I ever saw Orf serve last season, but it stands to reason that if she was given regular opportunities to do so, she would have recorded an ace or an error on accident.

Sandy Mohr rounds out the middles. Presumably she’ll play the same bench role again in 2018 after seeing just 20 sets of action in 13 matches during the 2017 campaign. It’s hard to say for certain, as she was a late addition to the roster last season, so it’s possible that her place in the rotation never quite came together as a result. Mohr was a top 40 prospect coming out of high school, though, and while she spent a year at the NAIA level, she clearly displayed the abilities required to rank that highly at some point. At 6’4”, she has the size to make an impact, so we’ll have to see if she can crack into the lineup more often in 2018.

Setters

You wouldn’t think it’s possible to be one of the 15 most productive setters in the country and still somehow be underrated, but that appears to be where Lauren Speckman finds herself. The California native led the Big East in assists last season, averaging 11.61 helpers per frame, nearly a full assist more than anyone else. That was good enough for 12th best in the country last season, and yet, somehow, Speckman isn’t on the 2018 preseason all-conference team. That’s a traveshamockery if I’ve ever seen one. I guess if we’re trying to rationalize that, we could point out that she’s not much of an attacker (0.51 kills/set last season), but she’s supposed to be making the pass, not the attack. She did average 1.85 digs per frame, which seems pretty great for a setter, and her 0.42 block/set mark is perfectly fine trending towards actually good, considering that Speckman stands “only” 5’9”.

Sarah Rose was MU’s primary backup at setter last season, and as you can guess, that meant she didn’t play all that much. She did get into 22 of Marquette’s 32 matches, playing in 45 sets. Averaging just 1.67 assists per set clearly tells us that she largely saw action only in mop-up duty. She did get a chance to start against DePaul in late September, and racked up 41 assists in a three-set sweep by MU. If pressed into action, it seems that Rose is more than able to tackle the job.

Defensive Specialists/Liberos

Marquette has three returning players on the roster falling into this category, but if we’re being honest, the Golden Eagles only have one with any real playing time experience.

That’s Martha Konovodoff, who was installed as libero from Day One as a freshman last season. She played in all 116 sets last year, averaging a team high 4.11 digs per set, which had her right up there amongst the leaders in the Big East. With Manon Geoffroy’s eligibility wrapping up after last season, a little more responsibility on the defensive end may end up falling to Konovodoff as it’s going to have to be someone without much Division 1 experience replacing Geoffroy on the backline next to her.

Given their familiarity with Ryan Theis’ system, Gabbi Martinez and Abby Julian will have the advantage on freshman Katie Schoessow at earning playing time on defense this season. Neither woman has played all that much so far in their collegiate careers. Julian has seen just 31 sets of action across two years and a redshirt first season in Milwaukee, and even though she’s listed on the roster as a setter/defensive specialist, she’s yet to record a single assist. Martinez was a freshman last year, recording four digs while appearing in six sets. With both women playing behind both Konovodoff and Geoffroy last season, there was only so much playing time available, and even Geoffroy didn’t appear in every set. There’s a spot open in the rotation now, so we’ll have to wait and see who ends up with it.