Welcome back to our Marquette volleyball season preview. We’ve already talked about the returning players on the roster, and boy howdy, there are a lot of them back from the best season in program history.
However, there are a couple of holes in the lineup left behind by last year’s seniors. As luck and/or very careful planning by the coaching staff would have it, all four newcomers on the 2019 volleyball roster fit precisely into the biggest vacancies. There are two transfers and two freshmen that we’ll be talking about here, and since they’re coming in with collegiate experience, we’ll start things off with the transfers.
We probably have to start with Gwyn Jones. She’s now a senior at Marquette after playing three years of volleyball at Auburn. She’s a 6’3” middle blocker, and since that’s Jenna Rosenthal’s position and Marquette’s biggest gap from last year’s lineup, you can see how Jones gets the top spot here.
In 86 career matches with the Tigers, Jones averaged 2.45 kills per set while hitting .258. She added 0.50 blocks per set as well, which is, y’know, fine. I want to follow all of that up with the fact that it would take a massive disaster of epic proportions for the 2019 Marquette team to not be the best college volleyball team that Jones has ever played on. During her time down in Alabama, the Tigers went a collective 42-44 over the past three seasons. In 2018, Auburn suffered 16 losses alongside 12 wins. In 2018 and 2017 combined, Marquette had 17 losses.
The point I’m making here is that while I don’t know why Jones left Auburn to end up in Milwaukee (her hometown of Greenville, Indiana, is essentially just outside Louisville), I do have an idea of what head coach Ryan Theis sees: A perfectly competent middle blocker who can step in and perhaps have her best season ever while giving MU an immediate fix at Rosenthal’s spot in the rotation. If Theis thought Sandy Mohr was a solution, she would have seen more playing time in the past two seasons. Nothing against Claire Nuessmeier, who we will get to in a minute, but she is a freshman, and this isn’t the year to be throwing freshmen into the fire like that.
Marquette’s other brand new transfer this season is Kaitlyn Lines, a 6’0” outside hitter from Gilbert, Arizona, which is in the southeastern section of the Phoenix metroplex. She arrives in Milwaukee with two years of experience at Pacific and thus two years of eligibility remaining.
Here’s the good news: Lines was Pacific’s leading attacker last season, racking up 3.88 kills per set. Here’s the bad news: The Tigers went 13-16 with an 8-10 record in the West Coast Conference and Lines hit just .187 on the year. This isn’t a volume related thing, as the offense was suddenly being funneled through her as a sophomore. She actually got more accurate when she took more swings after a freshman year hitting .096 and averaging 1.94 kills per set.
Lines did show an ability to play all over the court as a sophomore, averaging 2.12 digs per set in 2018. That was second best on the team last year. Pacific didn’t do much blocking in general, so Lines averaging 0.37 blocks last year is relatively successful.
There’s a role for her to play on this team, particularly with Anna Haak’s spot in the rotation up for grabs. There’s also a reason why Theis brought her in, too. However, with Hope Werch standing out as one of the 12 best players in the league heading into 2019 and Ellie Koontz getting more and more playing time towards the end of 2018, I’m not entirely sure what the role is for Lines off the bat. It’s possible that she slides right into Haak’s spot, thus keeping Werch in her 2018 role.
I will say this much: I hope that Kaitlyn is adept at sending attacks just inside the out of bounds stripes on the court, because the idea of “LINES GOES DOWN THE LINE FOR THE KILL” is amusing to me.
There are just two players coming straight out of high school to join the team this season, and as weird luck would have it, they play the same position as the two transfers. We’ve already mentioned Claire Nuessmeier as a potential candidate for playing time, given that she’s a middle blocker and Jenna Rosenthal’s spot is available. She’s listed on the roster at 6’2”, and hails from Saint Peter, Minnesota, which is just a bit north of Mankato.
Her Marquette bio says that she was a four year letterwinner in high school in volleyball and track, and multi-sport athletes are always a plus. We have career stats for her as well: 1,339 kills, 239 solo blocks, and 295 assists. I tracked down Minnesota Volleyball Hub as a part of the Star Tribune’s website, and we can glean a little bit more information. It lists 22 matches and records 59 sets in those for Nuessmeier in 2018, giving her a senior year average of 4.84 kills per set, presuming that she played in all the sets listed. I can’t tell you about her hitting percentage, as the stats don’t have complete attack numbers.
While you can see a path to playing time this season for Nuessmeier, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Here’s Ryan Theis’ commentary on her when MU announced their two woman recruiting class last November:
“Claire was a late add to our 2019 class,” Theis said. “She came to camp this summer and we were blown away by how dynamic she is. Claire hasn’t been exposed to a ton of high-level volleyball in her past, but she’s a great learner and we think she’ll catch up to the speed of the game quickly.”
That was a year ago, of course, so things change. But that quote does tend to lend creedence to the idea that Gwyn Jones has the inside track on replacing Rosenthal in the rotation.
Nuessmeier is joined on the roster by Hannah Vanden Berg, a 6’2” outside hitter hailing from Little Chute, Wisconsin. Between the two first year players, Vanden Berg has the much more impressive prep career and Marquette bio page. You can sum it up with this phrase: Three-time conference Player of the Year.
Seems good. I’ll let Theis elaborate:
“Hannah just led her high school team to the state tournament for the first time in 15 years,” Theis noted. “She also led the state in both hitting percentage and kills, which we all know is no easy task. We think she has the potential to carry a big load for us in the future and we can’t wait to get her on campus this summer.”
That was a year ago, following Vanden Berg’s senior season. Theis is currently in the process of guiding Allie Barber to Marquette’s all-time kills record, and she’s doing it while being the most accurate attacker in the Big East that’s returning from the 2018 campaign. Only now departed Golden Eagle Jenna Rosenthal was more lethal. You can see how a high volume and high accuracy outside hitter (she hit .466 as a senior!) appeals to Theis and his coaching staff, especially one from right here in Wisconsin.
What’s not mentioned in that quote from Theis is that Vanden Berg might be the best volleyball player in Little Chute history. I have to say might, because who knows what else is in their record books, but when one player takes down the record for kills, digs, and aces, that’s a pretty wide spectrum of action.
“What sets her apart physically from other great players is a couple of things,” Maass said. “One, she has a naturally high reach and contact point, meaning she hits over most people when they are blocking, and a natural wrist snap allowing her to hit the ball straight down. She also sees the court well, so when there is a big block, she is able to hit to the open court. She is also solid in all aspects of the game. Her defense and passing skills are equally as impressive as her offense. Most importantly, what sets her apart from other players is her selflessness. She is willing to do what is best for the team, no matter what that means for her. She plays loose and relaxed and is fun to play with instead of riding the emotional roller coaster.”
At 6’2”, Vanden Berg doesn’t have the height that Barber does, but very few women do. If she can maximize that high reach that her high school coach mentioned by way of natural gifts as well as strength and conditioning training with the cutting edge Marquette staff and facilities, then there’s a possibility there that she could just be the next outstanding hitter for the Golden Eagles.