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RV Marquette Volleyball Preview: vs St. John’s & vs Seton Hall

The Golden Eagles return home with an eye on starting a brand new Big East winning streak.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 23 St John’s at Seton Hall Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Okay. So. Marquette volleyball lost to Creighton. Again.

It’s not a big deal.

Sure, it makes Marquette’s chase for a Big East title much harder as now they’re in a tie with the Bluejays and it’s unlikely that CU slips up again like they did against St. John’s. But losing to a ranked team in the ranked team’s building is what’s “supposed” to happen, so it’s far from a bad loss on any level. It would be nice to have a signature win on the season, something that MU does not have at the moment, but you can’t worry too much about these things.

MU’s time is much better spent worrying about pulling in wins everywhere else on their schedule the rest of the way. With 12 Big East matches left to go in the regular season, the Golden Eagles are currently #29 in the ol’ RPI calculation. This is good! With 33 at-large bids in the NCAA tournament, any time you’re in the top 30, you’re looking great. After all, some of those top 30 RPI spots are being held by teams that will be automatic qualifiers. That top 35-40 is your safe window for an at-large bid, and that’s what’s important here.

Maintaining that top 40 spot is the key, and, well, sometimes the Big East doesn’t make that easy. There are just four Big East squads in the top 100 right now, and there are four Big East outside the top 150.... and two outside the top 200. Those matches are, unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, anchors on the RPI when they come through. They are awful losses waiting to happen, and as we saw in the spring, even one bad loss can be the difference in how the selection committee sees you.

Marquette has four matches between now and when they host Creighton on October 29th. That’s four matches to build a new winning streak, four matches to rack up W’s, four matches to try to improve the RPI, and four matches to hammer out whatever the coaching staff sees as the biggest problems from the loss to the Bluejays. Focus on what’s in front of you, grab the wins you can grab, and be ready.

Big East Match #7: vs St. John’s Red Storm (12-8, 3-3 Big East)

Date: Friday, October 15, 2021
Time: 7pm Central
Location: McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloSports
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 19-6 all time against St. John’s. The Golden Eagles had a seven match winning streak against the Johnnies snapped in the 2019 Big East championship game, but MU gained revenge in the 2020 spring season conference semifinals to (hopefully) start a new winning streak.

If you want to try and tell me that you understand what’s going on with St. John’s volleyball this season, I’m going to call you a liar. The Red Storm were the seemingly obvious pick to finish third in the Big East this season behind Marquette and Creighton, and they even had the conference’s preseason player of the year in Efrosini Alexakou. They started out the year with three straight losses, but when you play #12 and #24 and also lose to the team hosting the tournament, this isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Then they lost to Cornell, and the Big Red are just 5-8 this season at the moment.

Then they ripped off eight straight wins, and sure, we could debate the quality of the victories, but at this point, the Johnnies aren’t really in the position to do that themselves. A loss to then-#23 Western Kentucky down in Bowling Green wrapped up non-conference action, and again: losing to a ranked team isn’t that big of a deal…. But it is kind of a thing when it drops you to 9-5 on the season and you maybe had NCAA tournament hopes at the start of the year.

And then they lost their Big East opener to UConn.

And then two matches later, they beat #16 Creighton for what is very clearly their best win of the year……. And they immediately threw it in the trash by losing at home to Providence less than 24 hours later. Nothing against Providence here, but if you are “beat Creighton” good, you shouldn’t be losing to PC. You also shouldn’t be losing to Butler, a team that is currently under .500 on the year at 9-10, but that’s exactly what St. John’s did in their next match after Providence.

Like I said: No idea what’s going on here.

The most obvious answer to the equation is that Alexakou has been missing time, and she has. She has played in just half of St. John’s matches so far this season and hasn’t played at all since the Big East opening loss to Connecticut. Not having a POY candidate is absolutely the kind of thing that can throw your results all over the map…….. but “only played in one Big East match” means that St. John’s beat Creighton without Alexakou as well. That’s just adding a whole new level of “no idea what’s going on here,” and the fact that Alexakou hasn’t started in two of the matches that she has played in makes it even weirder. St. John’s has no information in their game notes about her availability, so who knows whether or not she’ll be available on Friday night.

In the meantime, Rachelle Rastelli is carrying the workload for the Johnnies. This isn’t surprising since she was a preseason all-Big East performer. She’s averaging 4.30 kills per set and hitting a pretty good .256 considering how much SJU has to lean on her. If Alexakou is available, she has been SJU’s #2 attacker this season, and if not, then that mantle falls to Giorgia Walther. The freshman from Italy is averaging a pretty good 2.82 kills per set, but she’s only hitting .181 to get there. If Marquette’s blocking system can derail Rastelli and get St. John’s to try to rely on Walther, then that’s probably a winning play.

Tiziana Baumrukova appears to be the primary setter for St. John’s. She’s averaging 9.71 assists per set, which is good not great for a primary setter. Wiktoria Kowalczyk has played in 18 of St. John’s 20 matches this season though, and she’s averaging 3.73 assists per set. This sounds an awful lot like the Red Storm are using a two setter system some of the time with Kowalczyk only appearing in 44 sets in her 18 matches, which would explain maybe why Baumrukova’s average isn’t in double digits.

Would you believe that Alexakou is actually St. John’s leader in digs per set right now? I know, right? Wild stuff. It would appear that Sheena Yoshioka qualifies as the libero for the Red Storm, but she’s only averaging 2.74 digs per set, which is very much not the kind of number you’d expect for a libero. All told, there are four women averaging north of two digs per set and another two north of 1.5... but only two of those six have appeared in all 73 sets this season. Defense by committee, for sure.

The same can not be said for St. John’s blocking, as they’re doing pretty good at that. Ariadni Kathariou leads the regulars on the team with 1.18 stuffs per set, and Rastelli along with Eleonora Tosi are both north of 0.75 per frame. That’s some pretty good net defense, and I haven’t even mentioned Maria Angelica Palacios. The grad student from Colombia has played in just eight sets all year, but they’ve all been in SJU’s last three matches. She’s averaging 1.25 blocks per set, so we’ll see how much the Red Storm use her against Marquette.

Big East Match #8: vs Seton Hall Pirates (10-10, 2-4 Big East)

Date: Saturday, October 16, 2021
Time: 6pm Central
Location: McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: Marquette Wire on YouTube
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 18-5 all time against Seton Hall. The Golden Eagles have won nine straight against the Pirates, which is every match since SHU knocked MU out in the 2014 Big East tournament semifinals. That was MU head coach Ryan Theis’ first season, and now I’m starting to wonder if he took that personally.

Ah, yes, the 2014 Big East tournament, back when I wondered if Seton Hall was rising as a challenger to Marquette and Creighton. Seton Hall has had one winning season overall since then and they are just 40-63 in Big East play, including this year’s 2-4 start. The Pirates are coming in off a sweep of Butler on Saturday that snapped a two game skid, and they will visit DePaul on Friday night before coming to Milwaukee. I could get into the nitty gritty of their non-conference schedule and so on.... but it’s not fun so I’ll just say that they’re currently at #171 in the RPI, which is eighth in the Big East, and move on.

Here’s how much of a mess Seton Hall is this season: Their own statistics say that they have played 69 sets on the year.... and yet there are somehow four women who have played in 72 sets and another two who are merely over 69.

Fun.

Perri Lucas, a 5’10” sophomore from Chicago, leads the team offensively with 2.77 kills per set. She is the only one of the top six attackers on the team by kills/set to play in more than 63 sets this season, and only one other woman is even north of 50 sets played. Quite honestly, other than Lucas, I have absolutely no idea who is going to be taking swings for the Pirates on Saturday night, and at this point, I think it’s actually a gamble to say that Lucas is a guarantee. It’s much safer to say that Taylor Jakubowski and Cagla Bengi will be rotating time at setter as both women are averaging somewhere between 4.4 and 4.9 assists per set and they’ve both played in at least 70 sets this season.

Presuming that 70 counter is accurate, of course.

Anna Holland, a freshman from Marquette’s neck of the woods, is nominally Seton Hall’s libero this season. 72 sets played, 4.28 digs per set. However, continuing the wildness that we saw with SHU’s offense, we have to point out that Raygan Murray played in Seton Hall’s first three matches, then didn’t play at all until appearing in both contests last weekend, aaaaand she’s averaging 4.59 digs/set. It would seem that Murray’s return to the lineup didn’t really slow down Holland, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens on Saturday.

One thing that Ryan Theis isn’t going to be waiting to see about is Seton Hall’s blocking. Amanda Rachwal and Madison Frusha are both averaging north of 1.10 blocks per set this season and they have apparently played in every set as well. It’s important to remember that the blocks average is only noting the blocks that go for points. It doesn’t include any attacks that they merely deflect into a direction that’s beneficial for the SHU offense to return, nor does it note any attacks that are sent wild as a result of trying to avoid the block. If Rachwal and Frusha are that talented at scoring with their blocking, then they’re probably adding a few extra points to the Pirates’ total that don’t show up as actual blocks, too.