Going into the weekend, the optimal scenario for Marquette women’s volleyball was probably a 2-1 record. As the preseason #16 team in the country, wins over Utah Valley and Boise State had to be the expectation. Beating #9 BYU on their floor? When they were coming off a Final Four appearance last season? When they’ve been ranked in the top 10 for 29 straight weeks? When they had won 24 straight matches at home and then tacked on two more against UVU and BSU before Saturday night? The odds seemed against the Golden Eagles on that one.
On Saturday night, Marquette put BYU in their own woodshed, downing the #9 ranked Cougars 3-1 on set scores of 22-25, 25-16, 25-22, and 25-12. We’ll get into it in a minute, but this was a mightily impressive performance by the Golden Eagles, and one that will likely pay dividends for them all season long. It’s the third win over a top 10 team in program history, as Marquette had previously beaten #7 USC in Los Angeles in 2016 and #7 Florida in Gainesville in 2014.
But first, let’s talk about wins #1 and #2 on the season before we talk about win #3.
Marquette opened up the season with a 3-0 (25-14, 25-18, 25-22) win over Utah Valley on Friday morning. It went about as well as it could go, as MU held UVU under .230 hitting in every set and to a mere .163 for the match.. Meanwhile, Marquette was firing on all cylinders in the first two sets, hitting above .430 before having a quieter third set to finish at .395 on 86 swings.
MU’s top four hitters in the match in terms of total kills all hit over .400, with Allie Barber racking up 14 kills on 27 swings. Lauren Speckman threw up 24 assists, and digs were well spread around the floor with four Golden Eagles getting at least five.
Marquette jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first set and never let the Wolverines in the door. They managed to trim the lead down to three at 10-7, but MU prevented them from scoring two points in a row the rest of the way before Elizabeth Orf and Barber closed it out on back-to-back kills. Set #2 was a taut affair to start, and Marquette did not get a four point lead until a 4-0 run capped by a kill from Orf put them up 14-9. UVU hung around, and got it back within two at one point, but a 6-2 burst at the end capped by three straight kills from Barber had MU up 2-0.
As mentioned a moment ago, the third set featured a little bit better hitting by Utah Valley and a little bit worse hitting by Marquette, but it didn’t start close. MU went up 8-3 early and seemed in position to end this quickly. But UVU ground their way back into it, and a kill by Kazna Tarawhiti put the Wolverines up 15-14. It stayed close the rest of the way, even after MU went back up by three at 21-18, and finally a kill from Hope Werch and an error by Tarawhiti gave MU the win.
While Marquette put Utah Valley away with relative ease, the same can not be said for Boise State. Whether it was because MU was in their second match of the day or maybe Boise is a better squad that the Wolverines, but the Golden Eagles slogged through a .299 hitting performance to win 3-0 (25-22, 27-25, 25-22).
Marquette needed to rally repeatedly in this one. A 4-0 run late in the first turned a BSU 21-20 lead into a Marquette advantage at 24-21. The middle two points in that burst were on blocks, with Elizabeth Orf partnering with Hope Werch and then Allie Barber to swing the match back in their favor before Werch notched set point.
The second set was even more of a precarious situation. Boise State got out to a 5-1 lead early thanks to a pair of back-to-back blocks on MU’s KJ Lines. Marquette ended up taking a lead at 10-9 and boosting that to 12-10, but the Broncos bounced right back out in front at 13-12. Back and forth they went, and MU went up 23-22 on an ace by Lines. Boise took three of the next four to find themselves sitting on set point and ready to level the match out at one set each. Barber fended off the end, and then two kills from Werch quickly spun it around into a 27-25 win for the Golden Eagles.
Set three was more of the same, although Marquette took a 10-6 lead on an attack error by BSU’s Jessica Donahue. That margin was enough to carry Marquette through the rest of another close contest. Boise would close it to just one eventually at 23-22 as Gwyn Jones got stuffed, but kills from Werch and Lines got the Golden Eagles to 2-0 on the season.
Werch and Lines tied for the team high here with kills, while Barber was right behind them with 12. Barber had an off day for her, hitting just .265, while the other two were up over .450 even while the Golden Eagles struggled as a team.
And now, the main event: Marquette’s 3-1 win over BYU.
Let’s be honest: It looked bad at the start. Not the very start, mind you. The first set was really fun, as the two top 16 teams pushed each other back and forth. Eventually BYU wandered up to a 19-16 lead on a kill by McKenna Miller, but Marquette answered with five straight to turn it into a 21-19 advantage. BYU took a timeout at that point, and it ended up as one of the more effective timeouts you’ll ever see. The Cougars induced an immediate service error, and then snapped together four kills before stuffing Hope Werch to end the set 25-22. It was in Marquette’s hands, right up until the moment it wasn’t.
Generally speaking, that’s not how you want to end the first set of a match in the #9 team in the country’s barn.
And yet, that didn’t affect Marquette. BYU won the first set while hitting .500, and then the wheels fell off. The Cougars managed just a meager .114 hitting percentage in the second set and that wasn’t the worst part of it for them. See, what happened was Marquette hit — and this is not a joke — .538 in the frame to just rampage up and down against the Cougars. An 8-0 run turned a 7-6 BYU lead into a 14-7 Marquette lead, and BYU was just holding on for dear life after that. They wouldn’t score back-to-back points again until Marquette had gone up 21-10 and the Golden Eagles were able to coast in to knot the match at a set each.
Set #3 was a lot more like Set #1, where the two sides played some really great volleyball and no one was ever really holding an advantage that made them comfortable. The biggest lead at any point was just three points, and it never hit that mark between BYU going up 16-13 and Marquette closing out the set on a 4-1 run to push away from a 21-all tie to win 25-22.
I don’t know what happened from there, but it almost feels like either Marquette saw the blood in the water and pounced or BYU suddenly became very aware that they could lose at home for the first time since 2017 and started playing as if it were inevitable. The Cougars opened up the set with a 3-0 lead, but that was pretty much the high point for them. They would hit just .059 in the frame, their low mark of the match, while Marquette opened up with both barrels to hit .474.
The Golden Eagles answered that 3-0 burst with five straight of their own. After Taylen Ballard-Nixon notched a kill to pull BYU even at 10 points a side, it was all Marquette after that. Seven straight points for MU permanently ended this match and BYU had nothing left. The Cougars didn’t even snap the scoring streak, as it was a service error by Lauren Speckman that broke it up, and BYU got another point immediately on an attack error by Elizabeth Orf. That was it for scoring by the Cougars after that 10-10 tie. Marquette closed the match out on an 8-0 run, just absolutely hammering BYU into the ground and issuing a memo to the rest of the country that the Golden Eagles are a force to be reckoned with this season.
Allie Barber was ridiculous in this match, knocking down 19 kills and hitting .436. Lauren Speckman had a double-double on 31 assists and 13 digs. KJ Lines had 17 kills, three blocks, five digs, and an ace. Hope Werch added 11 kills, two assists, three blocks, and eight digs.
Up Next: Well, if you thought that things were interesting now, just wait til Thursday. That’s when Marquette follows up what is probably the biggest win of the opening weekend of play in the country.... by heading to Madison to tangle with #5 Wisconsin. The Badgers are 2-0 after beating Florida State and North Carolina over the weekend, and will presumably stay in the top five when the new AVCA poll comes out on Monday.