And so, after last weekend, Marquette volleyball is locked into a duel with Creighton for the remaining six matches of the regular season.
Both teams are locked into a tie at 10-2 atop the Big East standings after the Bluejays completed their 2-0 season sweep of the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee last Friday night. If this tie holds through the rest of the season, Creighton will be the top seed in the Big East tournament by way of that tiebreaker. However, CU’s losses to Connecticut and St. John’s have opened the door for the Golden Eagles to lay claim to a shared regular season title with the Bluejays.
Marquette will play four straight on the road starting this weekend before wrapping up with two at home, while Creighton will go home/road/home for the final weekend pairings. As luck would have it, the two schedules are mirror images of each other, with Marquette visiting the teams that Creighton will be hosting and vice versa.
To a certain extent, every match the rest of the way is for the Big East title. Any single slip the rest of the way will at worst cost Marquette their first conference title since 2013 and at best force MU to hope that Creighton has another loss in their path. It’s a high tension way to go through the season, to be sure, but those are the cards that fate has dealt the Golden Eagles to this point.
Marquette is also playing to protect their NCAA tournament hopes as well. While the possibility of an automatic bid by way of a conference tournament title remains alive especially while the Golden Eagles are hosting the event, you can’t rely on it with Creighton also a near lock to make the field with MU. The good news is that Marquette goes into the weekend with an RPI of 14 through matches played on Halloween. That’s really great, considering that the NCAA’s top 16 seeds get to host the first round. Right now, I think that might be a near impossibility for Marquette with losses in their only four matches against ranked opponents, but if they can keep that RPI high, they’ll likely get a favorable draw in terms of which seeded team they have to visit for the first and second round.
I mention this because Marquette’s schedule is almost nothing but RPI landmines the rest of the way. Their best remaining opponent is St. John’s, who enters the weekend at #88. A week ago, the Johnnies were #68, so you can see the problem here. MU has four matches against sub-180 RPI teams waiting for them as the season winds to a close, including bottom of the Big East barrel Georgetown at #285.
Each match remains important for the small picture (the Big East title) and the big picture (the NCAA tournament) as well. One thing at a time, even though we’re going to preview two at a time.....
Big East Match #13: at Seton Hall Pirates (12-14, 4-8 Big East)
Marquette is 19-5 all time against Seton Hall. The Golden Eagles’ winning streak in the series now sits at 10 straight, which is every match since SHU knocked MU out in the 2014 Big East tournament semifinals.
Four matches have gone by for the Pirates since these two teams last met, and Seton Hall split them right down the middle. They won their very next one against Xavier, lost to Butler and Villanova, and then come into Friday night after a 3-1 win over Georgetown in their most recent contest. Seton Hall isn’t officially out of the running for one of the four Big East tournament berths, but with eight losses and only six matches left to go, they’re getting pretty close, especially with this one and a road trip to Creighton still on deck.
Perri Lucas remains Seton Hall’s only reliable attacker, and much like they did a few weeks ago, Seton Hall’s stats are still a mess. Somehow they claim just 90 sets on the season, but Lucas has played in 92. In any case, she’s the only attacker north of 80 sets played and more than 1.60 kills per set. Lucas reigns with 2.64 kills per set, but the sophomore from Chicago is only hitting .213 this season. MU held her to just eight kills in four sets and only .182 hitting in the first meeting. Emilee Turner has turned into Seton Hall’s second best hitter over the past month or so after missing most of the non-conference slate. She tied with Tsvetelina Ilieva for the team high in kills in the first meeting with MU, and Turner is averaging 2.37 kills on a .318 hitting percentage in 10 matches.
Taylor Jakubowski and Cagla Bengi continue to split time at setter with both women appearing in all 26 matches this season. They’re both averaging between 4.5 and 4.9 assists per set in head coach Allison Yaeger’s system. Raygan Murray continues to cover most of the universe in SHU’s back row at 5.11 digs per set while Amanda Rachwal and Madison Frusha take care of things at the net. That pair are both averaging north of 1.1 blocks per set this season, and dodging their attempts will be paramount for the Golden Eagles. MU did a pretty good job with that in the first meeting, allowing just five blocks for points by the Pirates as a team and limiting Frusha (2.0) and Rachwal (1.5) individually across the four sets of action.
Big East Match #14: at St. John’s Red Storm (14-12, 5-7 Big East)
Marquette is 20-6 all time against St. John’s. The Golden Eagles have won nine of the last 10 meetings including a 3-0 sweep in Milwaukee earlier this season.
St. John’s was scuffling a few weeks back when they bumped into the Golden Eagles, and nothing about that has changed in the interim. The team that owns one of Creighton’s two losses on the season followed up their loss to Marquette with a five set loss to DePaul. They have split their two weekends since then, losing to Butler but beating Xavier, then taking five sets to beat Georgetown before losing in five on the road against Villanova.
Needless to say, this is not how this season was supposed to go for the Red Storm.
A large chunk of that can be attributed to the loss of Big East Preseason Player of the Year Efrosini Alexakou, who suffered an injury earlier this season and has played just once — in the opener against UConn — in Big East play. With that said, we can’t ignore the fact that their win over Creighton, clearly their signature victory of the season, came without Alexakou on the court. They’re clearly capable of doing things, but it really has not worked out that way on a regular basis over the past 11 contests without her.
Without Alexakou, Rachele Rastelli has been dominating the offense. She leads the team with 4.48 kills per set, dang near twice as many as the next player..... which actually happens to be a tie between Alexakou and Giorgia Walther at 2.66/set, and Rastelli is up over 300 more attacks than Walther at this point. Italian sophomore Eleonora Tosi has turned into a reliable third option, hitting .247 and racking up 2.19 kills per set.
Tiziana Baumrukova is a pretty reliable setter at 9.06 assists per set, and Wiktoria Kowalczyk, a freshman from Poland, has been getting regular playing time nearly every match and dishes out 3.51 per set when she gets in there. St. John’s handles their back row defense by committee with Sheena Yoshioka playing nearly every set and averaging just 2.96 digs to lead the team. Rastelli is actually the second best regular on that chart at 1.78 digs/set just to give you an idea of how head coach Joanne Persico is just stapling things together there. Ariadni Kathariou continues to live up to her name by snaring all sorts of things at the net to the tune of 1.30 blocks per set.