When you have the #3 team in the country, the #10 team in the country, and a competent ACC squad coming to town for a weekend event, you have to look at things with a bit of a pragmatic eye. Even when you’re the #25 team in the country, as Marquette was as the Marquette Invitational started.
Thus, as we look back at the three games against #3 BYU, #10 USC, and Syracuse and see that Marquette went 2-1 with a the loss coming against the third best team in the country, then I have to give the whole endeavor a thumbs up. The 2-1 weekend moves Marquette to 7-2 on the season, and thanks to that win over #10 USC on Friday, it stands to reason that MU will stay in the AVCA top 25 when the new poll comes out on Monday.
MU opened up weekend action with a five set thriller victory over #10 USC, defeating the Trojans 21-25, 25-20, 25-21, 31-33, 15-11. As you can tell, the drama on this one really got going in the fourth set. I’ll openly admit that I was at the men’s soccer game against Penn on Friday night and was following the match by occasional Twitter check in up until the fourth set, so we’ll pick things up there. Look, this thing is going to be over 1,600 words whether I try to trim things down or not, so let’s at least pretend I’m doing this in the interest of brevity, okay?
With Marquette holding a 2-1 advantage in the match and on the verge of closing the door on the win, USC showed no signs of fear in the fourth frame. Just three times did one team take a two point lead: USC at 2-0, Marquette at 22-20, and then finally USC at 33-31 for the win. That was it. It was ties and one point margins all the way down otherwise. Marquette had the chance to bring things to an end after Hope Werch gave them that two point margin, but back-to-back hitting errors by Allie Barber, one coming on a USC block, evened the match back out at 22 and set the table for the extra point finish. The two teams combined for eight fended off set points, with Marquette having five failed chances to close out the match before finally a block by Brooke Botkin and Jasmine Gross on Jenna Rosenthal gave USC the win and set us to the ever-so-detestable fifth set.
“Hey! Y’all just played about 200 points of volleyball to deadlock at two! FIRST TO FIFTEEN IS DECLARED THE WINNER.” What a dumb system.
For as much as Marquette had frittered away their chances to win this thing in four sets, they seemed to be composed and in control of themselves as they built a 7-4 lead on, of all things, a kill by libero Martha Konovodoff. It was the damnedest thing, as Konovodoff had to just flip a free return ball over the net, but she sent it fairly deep towards the back corner. USC’s entire six woman playing group all stood still, turned their heads, and watched it drop very cleanly in by three feet in all directions. Totally nuts.
Of course, that wasn’t enough to put USC away. A kill by Victoria Garrick made it 10-10, and for a split second, it looked like the Golden Eagles were going to let this one get away from them. BUT: back-to-back kills by Haak gave MU a two point advantage before the Golden Eagles took the final three points of the set to win the match.
Barber finished the night with a remarkable 29 kills while hitting an absolutely absurd .473. Werch and Haak both finished with double-doubles, getting 17/14 and 12/10 in kills and digs respectively.
Saturday’s contest at #3 BYU seemed to be a long running exhibit in “hey, wait a minute, we’re figuring this out.” The Cougars won in four sets, 25-23, 22-25, 20-25, 14-25. As you can see, Marquette’s point total kept going down as the match kept progressing. Same goes for their hitting percentage, which started at .382 in set #1, but went down in each successive frame before bottoming out at .067 in the fourth.
It’s really a bummer, because the first set and the first, say, 26 points of the second were a real hoot and a half. The first set was electrifying volleyball with both teams hitting over .340 and neither side getting much of an advantage either way. Marquette had a 16-10 lead after 26 points were played in the second, and hoooooboy did that have the crowd at the McGuire Center going.
Sadly, that was pretty much the high point of the match right there. It took a long while, but BYU clawed their way back in to eventually AND THE ROCK MEANS EVENTUALLY tie the match at 22. Their final two points before evening it out were the first two points of a 5-0 run to flip 22-20 Marquette to 25-22 BYU and even the thing out at a set each. It wasn’t even errors by Marquette. Kill, kill, kill, ace, kill. Even at the time, it was hard to not look at that and think anything other than “Marquette had that in their hands and let it slip away. They’re going to pay for that.”
Pay for it they did, indeed. In fairness, the third set was competitive for most of the duration. But much like the second, BYU turned it on late in the third. A kill by Anna Haak evened the match at 16-all, but the Cougars would take six of the next eight points and a kill by McKenna Miller gave them the 2-1 lead.
It was at this point that a heavy majority of the students in the building bugged out. There appeared to be a giveaway of some kind — pizza, perhaps? — along the north wall between sets two and three. With the building suddenly half as full as it was for the first three sets, Marquette didn’t seem to have the same energy. BYU scored the first four points of the set, and that got extended out to a six point lead at 11-5. That’s basically as close as MU would get the rest of the way. There’s not much to say about the fourth, other than BYU put their stamp on it with a 6-1 to end the match.
Barber was the only Golden Eagle to crack double digits with 16 kills. It took her 42 attacks, though, and she hit just .238. That’s pretty good, though, as MU hit just .201 as a team against BYU.
With the unsurprising yet still disappointing loss to BYU in the rear view mirror, Marquette had a business proposition in front of them on Sunday afternoon: Beat Syracuse for a successful weekend. Had I realized that Syracuse had fought USC to five sets on Saturday afternoon, I probably would have been less surprised at Marquette needing four sets (25-17, 19-25, 25-23, 25-15) to put the Orange away.
The first set was business as usual. Take an early lead, fend off some pushes by the opponent, crush their hopes and dreams late. No problem. Set two was different. Competitive through most of the action, Syracuse seized the advantage following a kill by Anna Haak that evened the two teams at 16 each. Five of the next six points favored the Orange, and eight of the next 10. That made it 24-18 after a blocking error by Hope Werch, and a kill from Polina Shemanova gave the Orange the win to even the match at one set each.
If you were worried about Marquette’s mindset after losing a set to an unranked team for the first time all season, well, that turned out to be justified. Syracuse led early, 8-4, and when Anna Haak put down a kill to give Marquette a 17-14 lead later on, it’s not like anyone was comfortable with the situation. In fact, Syracuse would retake the lead and come to the precipice of set point, going up 23-22 on a kill by Shemanova. But she would hand that point right back with a service error, and an attack error followed by a kill from Haak gave MU the narrow 25-23 win. Before Haak’s kill, Marquette’s last five points were all on errors by Syracuse. That is a gift of a win, pure and simple.
Syracuse looked to retake that gift in the fourth, getting out to a 7-5 lead on a block by Yuliia Yastrub. MU took the advantage back and led by only two, 14-12, after a kill by Syracuse’s Santita Ebangwese. That’s when Marquette went into beast mode, ripping off the next seven points, with only one coming on a straight up miscue by the Orange. Suddenly, it was 21-12, and the finale here was purely academic.
Allie Barber had 14 kills on a .389 hitting day to lead the team, but Jenna Rosenthal was right behind her with 13. Elizabeth Orf maybe had the most well rounded afternoon, posting eight kills while hitting .533, and adding an assist, two digs, and a team high four assisted blocks.
Up Next: Marquette will stay at home next weekend for another non-conference tournament before kicking off Big East action. They’ll be hosting (in order) #2 Wisconsin (5-1), Tulsa (7-2) , and Illinois State (7-2). Wisconsin most likely won’t be #1 in the country after BYU’s undefeated weekend and UW’s loss to #15 Baylor on Friday, which is a bummer. There’s nobody particularly notable amongst the collective 14 wins for Tulsa and Illinois State, unless you want to count ISU’s sweep at Butler on September 1st.