Look, let’s just come out and say it: If Marquette women’s volleyball plays all of 2019 like they did while absolutely mauling then-#9 BYU and knocking the Cougars out of the top 10 for the first time in nearly two years, then we are in for one hell of a season at the McGuire Center.
That season at the McGuire Center starts this weekend, but not before the Golden Eagles tangle with their second straight top 10 opponent. They’ll close the weekend with their third top 25 opponent of the year. Say this for head coach Ryan Theis: He knows what he has in his team this season and isn’t afraid to throw them into live fire against difficult competition.
Look no further than the opening weekend of the season for evidence of this. Think about it: Yes, Allie Barber led Marquette in kills with 4.50 per set, but she wasn’t the one who was named MVP of the tournament that BYU hosted. That honor went to Kaitlyn Lines, the transfer from Pacific. She nailed down 37 kills for an average of 3.70 per set while hitting a team best .413. In her free time, Lines handed out two assists, fired off six aces, added eight digs, and contributed four blocks. A little bit of everything here there and everywhere for the Arizona native.
If that’s the kind of play that we can expect from Lines, then she’s a more than suitable replacement for Anna Haak in the lineup, and it’s nothing but upside for the Golden Eagles. By hammering down attacks at that rate, Lines just makes Barber more dangerous, and Barber already was the most dangerous attacker in the Big East.
It’s a long season as always, of course. But we saw an awful lot of good things from the Golden Eagles in the opening three matches of the season. Over the next few days, we’re going to get a chance to see a lot more.
Match #4: at #4 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0)
Date: Thursday, September 5, 2019
Time: 7pm Central
Location: UW Field House, Madison, WI
Video Streaming: FoxSportsGo.com
Radio Streaming: UW broadcast on 1070 AM via iHeart Radio
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
Marquette is 2-21 all time against Wisconsin. Yep. That’s kinda lopsided. Then again, Marquette and Wisconsin didn’t play each other at all between 2009 and 2016, as well as not at all between 2000 and 2007. So there’s been some gaps, and a lot of that history took place in the Marquette volleyball dark ages, such as they are.
Two crisp 3-0 wins in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is how Wisconsin opened the season. They downed Florida State in straight sets before turning around 27 hours later and beating North Carolina in their barn. Pretty standard stuff for a UW team picked to win the Big Ten this season.
Being picked to win the league a pretty big deal for the Badgers, as the Big Ten is always loaded up with teams ready to make deep NCAA tournament runs. To wit: They’re picked ahead of AVCA preseason #2 Nebraska, defending champion Minnesota, who were #3 in the preseason national top 25, and Penn State, who got a first place vote in the AVCA preseason poll. While they’re the ones with the target on their back, it’s also safe to say that if they don’t win the Big Ten, it’s hardly going to be a disappointment.
The name to know is the player that jumps out at you when you watch the Badgers play: Dana Rettke. The 6’8” middle blocker from Riverside, Illinois, is averaging 5.83 kills per set so far this season. She’s not even dominating the offense, as she has just five more attacks than the next best player. However, Rettke’s using her height to her advantage, seeing the court at an expert level and hitting an imposing .534 through six sets. She’s not, however, converting walls at the net to blocks for points, averaging just 0.67 blocks per set at this point.
Grace Loberg and Molly Haggerty both average over three kills a set thus far, which just makes Rettke more dangerous. Sydney Hilley handles the distribution, coming out of Minnesota to average 13 assists per set. Tiffany Clark is your defensive anchor with 3.33 digs per frame, but Lauren Barnes averages 3.17 as well.
Match #5: vs Syracuse Orange (0-0)
Marquette is 6-4 all time against Syracuse. Every meeting took place between 1994 and 2012, with only two coming before MU joined the Big East.
Yes, that’s right, that’s not a typo: Syracuse has yet to play a match in 2019. I don’t know why the Orange didn’t get started last weekend like, I dunno, what has to be dang near everyone else in the country if not actually everyone else. They did play a scrimmage against Cornell, so that’s fun. They’ll play Baylor in Madison on Thursday before making their way to the McGuire Center, so this will not be their first match of the season.
Annnnnyway, the Orange are coming off a 19-9 season a year ago that ended with a loss to Penn State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. That’s a pretty solid season. This year, they’re picked to finish sixth in the ACC, two spots lower than they finished last year. They did finish just two points behind fifth place North Carolina and just five points ahead of seventh place Duke, so there’s clearly a bit of doubt as to who goes where here.
Polina Shemanova led the team in kills a year ago with 4.22 per set, and she’s back for 2019 as SU’s only preseason all-ACC honoree. Ella Saada is the only other Orange player that averaged more than a kill per set a year ago that’s returning, so perhaps we’re starting to see why the ACC coaches aren’t particularly high on them. They’re also replacing their primary setter, as well as one of the two women that rotated with her. Elena Karakasi is the other time splitter, and she averaged 4.62 assists in 19 matches a year ago.
Match #6: vs #17 Baylor Bears (2-0)
Marquette is 0-1 all time against Baylor, with the only meeting coming in last year’s opening weekend when MU was receiving votes and the Bears were #16 in the country.
Baylor got the season started on the right foot with a win over UCLA and a win over #18 Creighton. You can never really go wrong when you get a win over a Pac 12 squad, and beating the Jays in Lincoln, which could be categorized as semi-home, is a very good win. Both wins were in straight sets, which again, also good.
The Bears were in the NCAA tournament a year ago, advancing to the second round and finishing the year with a record of 20-9. They were picked to finish second in an always competitive Big 12, and there’s nothing wrong with being picked to finish behind Texas.
Baylor has two preseason all-conference honorees in Shelly Stafford and Yossiana Pressley. It’s the second straight unanimous preseason nod for Pressley after leading the Big 12 in kills in conference play a year ago. Stafford is one of the most accurate attackers in Baylor history after breaking the school record for hitting percentage in a season in back-to-back campaigns.
Through six sets, Pressley is averaging an absolutely nuts 6.33 kills per set. There’s no way that holds up much longer, but it still something Marquette has to worry about, especially if she’s going to keep hitting in the neighborhood of .370. Stafford is second on the team in kills at 2.17, and she’s the only other hitter averaging north of two per set. Junior Hannah Lockin handles the setting, averaging north of 11 assists per set.
In terms of defense, the Bears take care of things by committee, with Lockin and Pressley coming in as the only two women averaging more than two digs per set. Stafford and Kara McGhee are both averaging a block per set, and the 6’2” Stafford has three solo stuffs on the year already.