With eight days to go before the NCAA allows women’s volleyball teams to play a shifted spring schedule, Marquette has announced the non-conference portion of their slate.
It’s a pretty creative schedule, and we’ll dive into that in just a second. First, let’s lay out the exact dates and opponents.
Marquette Volleyball Spring 2021 Non-Conference Schedule
|Fri., Jan. 22||Illinois State||5:30 PM|
|Sat., Jan. 23||Illinois State||1:00 PM|
|Sat., Jan. 30||at Northern Iowa||TBD|
|Sun., Jan. 31||at Drake||TBD|
|Fri., Feb. 5||at #15 Creighton||7:00 PM|
|Sat., Feb. 6||at #15 Creighton||7:00 PM|
|Thurs., Feb. 25||Saint Louis||TBD|
|Sat., Feb. 27||Iowa State||TBD|
We’ll circle back to the start of the schedule in a second, but let’s start with the elephant in the room: Yes, that’s a pair of non-conference matches against noted Big East foe Creighton. There’s no press release from Marquette yet, so let’s turn the discussion over to the press release from Omaha instead:
The Bluejays open February with back-to-back home matches vs. Marquette on Feb. 5 and Feb. 6, but with a twist. Neither match will count towards the BIG EAST standings, as the teams have set up this weekend to be non-conference matches. The teams are also scheduled to meet later this spring, with those specifics to come when the BIG EAST announces its conference schedule.
I’d wager this means that there’s only going to be one Creighton/Marquette weekend during league play, and the Golden Eagles and the Bluejays agreed to even the field for each other by playing two matches in Omaha. Beyond that, this is a brilliant scheduling decision. As we talked about when the NCAA approved this shifted spring schedule for fall sports, there’s only a 10 week window for regular season matches in the spring, down from a 13 week window that women’s volleyball usually gets in the fall. That means that teams are going to have to be a little bit creative in terms of making sure their non-conference schedules are as strong as possible to help them get into the NCAA tournament in April, especially with a 48 team field instead of the traditional 64. Marquette and Creighton are constantly fighting against the drag of the Big East schedule in terms of RPI numbers come selection time anyway, so how can they combat that? By playing each other even more. Brilliant. I love it. I’d almost advocate for this to be a regular thing once we get back to playing the sport in the fall, but it is probably best to play as many different tippy top opponents as opposed to doubling up on good league foes.
As for the rest of the slate, it’s pretty great when you take into account that Marquette was clearly not trying to travel very far or ask anyone else to travel very far. Illinois State made the 2019 NCAA tournament, falling to #4 seed Wisconsin in the first round. That was the second straight appearance in the tourney for the Redbirds to go along with another recent appearance in 2014. Northern Iowa also made the field of 64 in the fall of 2019, losing to Missouri in the first round. UNI lost to Illinois State in the 2019 MVC championship match, but earned an at-large bid into the field for the fifth time in the last 10 years. Iowa State is an NCAA tournament regular under head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch, with their 2019 first round loss to Creighton marking their 13th appearance in the last 14 seasons and just their 14th appearance in program history. The Cyclones participated in the optional fall season and finished with a 5-9 record against Big 12 foes.
Drake and Saint Louis? Well, no, they don’t have the relatively recent history of success like the other three, but that’s fine. Marquette has a lot of questions to answer in terms of their rotation on the court this year, so playing against teams that don’t obviously have the NCAA tournament as a goal on their checklist for the year isn’t the worst thing for the Golden Eagles.
We’re still waiting for a Big East schedule.... or even confirmation of what said league schedule would look like. Back last summer, the league announced a plan to go to a regional division format, but that was going along with the idea of having a full 13 week fall regular season for volleyball. Is that still the plan for this shortened spring season? Are we getting something else entirely? Who can say? Creighton’s press release makes it sound that the league schedule will all happen after Marquette visits Omaha, but as you can see, MU has slated games after that road trip. There’s still the entirety of the month of March, of course, so we’ll just have to wait and see what the Big East has in store for the team ranked #20 in the country in the preseason AVCA poll.