Marquette volleyball wasn’t shy about saying their goal for the season out loud this year: A Big East regular season championship. Thanks to a season sweep at the hands of Creighton for Marquette’s only two losses of the Big East calendar, that didn’t happen.
That still put MU in second place in the league and set them up for a solid chance at a Big East tournament title as a consolation prize. The Golden Eagles fairly easily dispatched Villanova in the semifinals to advance to the title game, and then they received a surprise: #4 seeded St. John’s toppled Creighton in straight sets in the other semifinal match. Suddenly, it looked as if MU’s path to the tournament trophy got a little bit clearer. They wouldn’t have to go through the Bluejays team that had beaten them twice before, but instead, it would be a Red Storm team that Marquette went 2-0 against in the regular season.
As it turns out, Marquette walks away from the 2019 Big East campaign with zero trophies.
Even though Marquette outhit the Johnnies .287 to .241 over the course of the match, it was the Red Storm rushing out onto the court in celebration at the end of the match on Saturday afternoon. St. John’s beat Marquette three sets to one, and if we’re being honest about it, it wasn’t really in doubt. St. John’s won with scores of 25-20, 25-22, 19-25, and 25-21. In the three sets that the Johnnies won, Marquette recorded 12 points after St. John’s had already reached 23 in order to make those scores look a bit closer than those sets actually were.
From the get-go, as St. John’s opened up leads of 7-3, 10-6. and 15-11 in the first set, the eerie feeling of watching the same match as Friday’s semifinal against Creighton started to seep in. The Red Storm was clearly and definitively playing better volleyball than their opponent, and in both cases, we’re talking about an opponent that’s in the top 20 in the country no matter how you want to go about measuring that. Marquette would trim the lead, and St. John’s would answer with two or three points in a row to resume their margins. The same thing happened again in the second, as St. John’s asserted themselves early and just kept racking up a few points in a row, making it hard for Marquette to fight their way back into a lead.
The third set provided Marquette fans with a bit of hope and energy, as the Golden Eagles came out of the locker room having changed from Championship Blue jerseys to the alternate gold uniforms. The energy needed to fight back from an 0-2 hole was present from the get-go as Marquette started out with an 8-4 lead and did the same thing to St. John’s that the Red Storm had been doing in the first two sets. When Allie Barber laid down the kill for the 25-19 win to make it 2-1, the sense that we were going to watch a five set thriller was very much coursing through the Al McGuire Center.
And then St. John’s went up 4-1 out of the gate in the fourth set.
Marquette punched back, getting a block from Ellie Koontz and Elizabeth Orf to go up 10-7..... and then St. John’s scored five straight coming out of a timeout. 12-10 Johnnies, and then they put up four more in a row with a Hannah Vanden Berg kill being the only thing in the middle of a 9-1 run. 16-11 Red Storm, and Marquette was officially on the ropes.
Things got very weird at the end, as the referees called a net violation with the Johnnies sitting on match point, but the Red Storm thought they had won it. Bench clears, head coach Joanne Persico throws her clipboard, etc., etc........ except the refs are pointing at Marquette for the point. Persico started shouting at the down referee about the call, and then she called timeout, and then she challenged the call, and then it was very quickly upheld. I’m not entirely sure how all of that didn’t merit a yellow card to make it 24-22, but I suppose leeway must be given for thinking that your block landed for a tournament title.
In any case, St. John’s won the next point, boom, 25-21, Red Storm takes the title and the Big East’s automatic bid.
Up Next: Marquette waits for the NCAA selection show on Sunday night, where they are all but guaranteed an at-large bid to the 64 team tournament. The question, though, is whether MU has enough in their pocket for a top 16 national seed and the right to host the first two rounds for the second straight year. As of the NCAA team sheets published through games on November 24th, Marquette was at #12 in the RPI. They picked up a win over #61 Villanova, but lost to #87 St. John’s. Obviously, with a win over #12 and a win over #17, St. John’s is going to improve, but as for right now, the Johnnies are MU’s worst loss in RPI terms this season. We’ll see what matters the most to the selection committee at 7:30pm Central time on ESPNU.