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Marquette Volleyball Locks Up A Top Two Finish In The Big East

The Golden Eagles beat Xavier and swept Butler to clinch a top two seed in the conference tournament.

Hope Werch
Hope Werch was killing it (#VolleyballTerm) over the weekend.

And so, behind a pair of road wins over the weekend, Marquette volleyball moved to 23-4 overall and 14-2 in the Big East. The Golden Eagles defeated Xavier 3-1 (25-20, 15-25, 25-18, 25-21) on Saturday before heading to Indianapolis on Sunday and coming away with a 3-0 (25-14, 25-12, 25-17) win over Butler. Those were the final two road matches of the regular season for the Golden Eagles, and the next time they start a match away from the McGuire Center will (presumably) be in the NCAA tournament.

I say “presumably” there because at this point, it seems impossible for Marquette to miss out on an at-large bid if they don’t win the Big East tournament and secure the league’s automatic bid. While we wait for the results of the newest AVCA poll on Monday afternoon, the NCAA has helpfully updated the RPI through all matches played on Sunday. Marquette is sitting at #14 in the country in that metric. While they have two more regular season matches to go that might affect it as well as whatever happens in the conference tournament, I can’t possibly see the Golden Eagles’ RPI falling past 40 at this point. In a 64 team tournament, 40 is roughly the RPI cutoff for an at-large team, maybe 50. Even three losses (can’t lose twice in the Big East tourney, of course) wouldn’t damage MU that much at this point.

The win also clinches a top two finish for the Golden Eagles in the Big East. At 14-2, Marquette remains tied atop the league with Creighton. However, thanks to the regular season sweep, Creighton will get the #1 seed in the conference tournament if the tie holds to the end of the season. Third place Connecticut has dropped to 12-4, and while mathematically MU could end up tied for second place with the Huskies at four losses at the end of the regular season, the Golden Eagles swept the season series 2-0 and holds the tiebreaker there.

As for the actual volleyball action, the set scores will tell you that Marquette had two very different matches over the weekend. We’ll start with Xavier, because chronological order is fun and good. Things started out poorly for the match, as by the time 21 points were played, the action had been stopped to readjust one of the net pins that had come loose as well as to double check the air pressure status of at least one of the balls in use. Fun! At least Marquette was already up 12-9 at that point. Xavier pushed back into the set, getting it within one but never tying Marquette. An attack error by XU’s Emma Grace gave MU a little breathing room to trade points before pushing away for a 23-18 lead on a kill by Ellie Koontz, her sixth (!) of the opening frame, and then Hope Werch closed it out.

And then Marquette forgot how to play volleyball for about 18 points. The Golden Eagles fell into a 13-5 hole out of the gate in the second set and then never really recovered from it. Xavier took the thing 25-15, and regular MU viewers were left wondering how and why Marquette keeps throwing off bad sets like this on a regular basis. Losing a close set is one thing, it happens. Self-destructing like this? Not so great, and it’s happening regularly.

The wild part about all of it is that MU regularly turns around and goes right back to being really good. Take the third set for example, as MU suddenly ripped off six straight points, including three service aces from Claire Nuessmeier, to go up 10-5 early. The Golden Eagles kept the lead in the neighborhood of five points before popping off three more in a row to go up 19-12, and then a late 4-0 burst greatly helped by three straight errors by the Musketeers made it 24-14. Sure, Xavier fended off set points four times to make it a lot closer than it actually was, but finally Taylor Wolf closed it out.

Marquette got out to a 3-0 lead in the fourth frame, and that was beneficial to say the least. Xavier slowly worked their way back, getting within one at 11-10 on an error by MU’s Savannah Rennie. The next five points all went MU’s way, with Rennie sandwiching three Xavier errors with two kills of her own. 16-10 Marquette, but Xavier wasn’t done. They cut it back two just two as things approached the finale, first 21-19 and then 22-20, but Marquette got the final three points they needed for the win.

Four Golden Eagles scored at least 10 kills, led by Hope Werch with 15. Ellie Koontz only finished with 10 after her outstanding first set, but sometimes a big performance early helps set up everyone else for success later. Carly Skrabak and Katie Schoessow each had double digit digs, with Skrabak (21) more than doubling up her backline partner (10). Taylor Wolf just barely missed a triple-double, pairing 13 kills and 25 assists with only nine digs.

I noted earlier that these two matches went very differently. As you can tell, Xavier was feisty all match long and Marquette had to work to put them away. Butler.... well, they played hard. It just didn’t work out for them, as Marquette held Butler without a positive hitting percentage through the first two sets. -0.038 in the first, a flat .000 in the second, a mark of -0.023 overall. Through the first two sets, Butler had 13 kills total.

6-1 Marquette out of the gate in the first tells you a lot about how this went. Butler cut it to two, 12-10, and then the Golden Eagles ripped off seven straight to take a 19-10 lead. MU just coasted it in from there with help from two unforced errors by the Bulldogs. Set #2 had a bit more back and forth to start before Marquette posted a 9-1 run that left them up 12-5 after a kill by Carsen Murray. Five more in a row made it 17-7, and eventually a solo block by Savannah Rennie wrapped it up.

Butler finally had a quality set in the third, but it really didn’t matter. They actually had an 8-7 lead in the early-ish going after MU struck out to a 6-2 start, and that was enough to prompt a timeout from the Marquette sideline. The Golden Eagles responded to the break by scoring six of the next eight points and eight of the next nine. 15-12 Marquette, and after a Destiny Cherry kill, MU opened up the throttle and scored six straight. 21-13, and they traded points the rest of the way to win.

Hope Werch had a great match, garnering 14 kills and hitting .308, while Rennie was the only other attacker with double digit kills with 10, and she hit .333 on the day. Yet again, Taylor Wolf just missed a triple-double by one, except it was nine kills with 17 assists and 16 digs that left her short. Carly Skrabak was all over the place here, getting 21 digs in just three sets, and Katie Schoessow helped out with 13 of her own.

Up Next: Marquette returns to the McGuire Center for two final regular season matches. It’ll be Georgetown on Friday night at 7pm Central before Villanova comes to town on Saturday for a 6pm start on Senior Day. The Golden Eagles have seven players wrapping up their eligibility at the end of the season, so it should be a very festive final weekend.