It’s been a minute or two since we talked about the upcoming Marquette women’s volleyball season, so let’s wrap up our season preview series with the traditional finale: Three questions about the season soon to begin.
Question #1: Can Allie Barber break the career kills record?
As we’ve already talked about elsewhere, Barber is in shouting distance of Theresa Coughlin’s all-time record. However, if Barber does surpass Coughlin, it’s going to take her nearly the entire season to do it. In fact, if Barber merely recreates last season in terms of total production, she won’t actually break the record.
Barber sits 504 kills away from the record. Last year, while guiding Marquette to the first Sweet 16 appearance in program history, Barber recorded only 465 kills. As you can tell, that’s not enough.
The 546 kills she had as a sophomore? Well more than enough. Somewhere in the middle of the two? Also possibly enough.
The thing is, in terms of kills per set, 2017 and 2018 weren’t that different. Barber averaged 4.71 kills per frame in 2017 and 4.67 in 2018. In addition to that, in 2018, Barber played in one fewer set in three more matches than the year before, and that’s with one match getting cancelled due to Seton Hall having some travel issues.
There’s a lot of questions at hand on this issue, and we’re nog going to get anything close to a clear picture on it until at least the start of October.
Question #2: Can Marquette surpass their program record for a national ranking?
Last year, Marquette wrapped up the 2018 season ranked #15 in the country in the AVCA coaches poll. That was the last in a long line of brand new all-time bests for a ranking in the poll, as the Golden Eagles started unranked and just kept climbing all year long.
Can they beat that #15 ranking this season?
Well, they’re starting at #16 in the preseason poll, so it’s definitely possible if they come out of the gate hot. It’s also definitely possible that they come out of the gate hot, as the third opponent of the season is #9 BYU. Three of their first six matches and four of their first eight are against teams ranked in the top 20 to start the year.
I’m not saying I’m expecting Marquette to beat #5 Wisconsin, #6 Illinois, or #9 BYU. Heck, not even #20 Baylor, even though that one comes in the McGuire Center. But the chances are there before even September 15th for the Golden Eagles to make the case that they belong at #14 in the poll, or even better than that.
Question #3: What counts as a successful season?
Last year gave us repeated all-time best rankings in the AVCA poll, the first national seeding in the NCAA tournament, the first NCAA tournament matches at the McGuire Center, and the first Sweet 16 appearance in program history.
Expecting repeats of all of these things seems a little strong, particularly given that they are all program history bests. Sometimes high points are peaks, not plateaus, and that’s okay. If Marquette takes a step backwards but keeps the NCAA tournament streak in place, that’s still a success, I think.
But Marquette returns almost all of the core pieces of that 2018 squad, including leading attacker Allie Barber, setters Lauren Speckman and Sarah Rose, and libero Martha Konovodoff. That’s a solid enough starting place to think that MU can match their high points from last year, and perhaps even improve on them.
Most notably, winning a Big East title.
The Golden Eagles are favored to win the conference this season, but the same can be said for 2018 as well. It’s going to take 18 matches of flawless volleyball in league play to secure the title this year, particularly with Creighton starting the season ranked #18 in the country. It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely within sight.