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2021 Big East Volleyball Semifinals Preview: #2 Marquette vs #3 Connecticut

The Golden Eagles face off with the Huskies with a spot in Saturday’s championship game on the line.

NCAA Womens Basketball: American Conference Tournament-Temple vs UConn David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

2021 Big East Volleyball Tournament

Semifinals

#2 Marquette Golden Eagles vs #3 Connecticut Huskies

Date: Friday, November 26, 2021
Time: 12:30pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloSports
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
Season Series: Marquette won, 2-0, both with scores of 3-1

The first of two semifinal matches on Friday afternoon presents an interesting matchup. Marquette is the co-champion in the regular season, finishing with a record of 16-2 and only losing to co-champion Creighton along the way. Connecticut, on the other hand, went 13-5 in the league to finish third.... but the Huskies are one of the two teams to beat Creighton this season. They’ve shown the ability to contend with the top of the league, and more so than ever, Marquette is vulnerable to an upset.

The Golden Eagles won both regular season meetings between the two teams, and won both by identical 3-1 set scores. However, the Marquette team that the Huskies saw on October 1st and October 23rd is not going to be the same team that they see on Friday. In Match #1 between the two teams in Milwaukee, Hope Werch and Hannah Vanden Berg combined for 14 kills, three assisted blocks, and 12 digs while hitting .163. Match #2 saw the duo combine for 18 kills, three assisted blocks, and 19 digs with a hitting percentage of .340. Neither woman will play on Friday. Vanden Berg has missed Marquette’s last four matches due to injury to the extent that she didn’t even travel with the Golden Eagles to Xavier and Butler two weeks ago. Werch went down in a heap in the first set this past Friday against Georgetown and did not return.... and then was in a hip to ankle brace and on crutches on Saturday.

I mean, sure, I suppose it’s possible that Werch is better than expected. After all, she was kind of managing without the crutches while celebrating Marquette’s conference title after defeating Villanova. But, if I were Ryan Theis and Werch herself and there was a chance at all that she could be healthy enough to play again this season in the NCAA tournament, I absolutely would not have her out there for the Big East tournament. This tournament is mostly just for bragging rights for the Golden Eagles, as their at-large hopes for the NCAA tournament are well past the “hope” stage and onto the “pretty much a lock” format. There’s no reason to put Werch at risk over a tournament title if — and that’s a big if — she’s able to play.

In the meantime, Marquette will be asking Jenna Reitsma to step up. The Michigan native got shoved into the lineup on the fly when Werch got hurt on Friday and wrecked shop the rest of the way against the Hoyas and then kept it up against Villanova. She averaged 3.67 kills per set — and didn’t play in the first set of the weekend until late in the proceedings — and ended up tops on the team with 22 kills in total across the two matches. Whatever she’s got, Marquette is going to need it.... because right now, Reitsma and Ellie Koontz are the only two available pure outside hitters on the MU roster.

Let’s talk about the Huskies! They’re pretty good! This is, officially, their second straight Big East tournament appearance after returning to the league for the spring 2021 season. Unofficially, this is the first tournament they’ve actually qualified for, as UConn was a COVID substitution in the spring tournament. They ended up in third place in the league by winning seven of their final nine outings, including three five-set victories along the way. Their final match of the regular season was one of those three as the Huskies came back from down 2-0 to Xavier to avoid finishing in a tie for third with DePaul.

Caylee Parker is the top attacker for UConn. She’s averaging 3.41 kills and 3.98 points per set this season while hitting a respectable .237. She’s the clear #1 option, but Jasmine Davis isn’t too far behind her and the two of them account for more than half of Connecticut’s swings on the season. Davis, however, is only hitting .189 to get to 2.84 kills per set, so she’s clearly the preferable option in MU’s eyes.

McKayla Wuensch handles the setting duties for the Huskies to the tune of 9.59 assists per set. That goes up to 10.20 in Big East play, though, as it would appear Madi Whitmire’s contributions to the position have gone down in league play since she has only played in 15 of Connecticut’s 68 Big East sets.

On defense, Connecticut is anchored by Karly Berkland. 4.04 digs per set is pretty darn good for the defensive specialist from Iowa. They’re also getting a lot of milage out of their defense work at the net. UConn is the second best team in the league (behind only Creighton) at blocking for points, netting 2.45 per set on average. They have a trio of women who are doing major damage in that department. Kennadie Jake-Turner leads the squad with 1.05 blocks/set, but Taylor Pannell (0.98) and Allie Garland (0.93) are doing more than their fair share of swatting work, too.

The winner of this match will advance to Saturday’s championship game against the winner of Friday’s other semifinal. That will be #1 Creighton vs #4 DePaul, and it is scheduled to start at 3pm Central or 30 minutes after Marquette/UConn ends, whichever comes later.