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2021 NCAA Volleyball Tournament Preview: Marquette vs Dayton

Weirdly, this match in this arena was MU’s first round setup the last time the Golden Eagles were in the national championship field.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 15 Atlantic 10 Conference Championship - St. Louis v Dayton Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2021 NCAA Volleyball Tournament

First Round

Marquette Golden Eagles (26-5, 16-2 Big East) vs Dayton Flyers (25-5, 16-0 Atlantic 10)

Date: Thursday, December 2, 2021
Time: 3:30pm Central
Location: Holloway Gymnasium, West Lafayette, Indiana
Streaming: ESPN+
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
All-Time Series: Dayton leads, both 21-8 overall and 17-7 in Division 1 action. Marquette, however, has won each of the last three meetings, including a 3-0 sweep..... in Holloway Gymnasium in the 2019 NCAA tournament.

It’s been two years since we had an NCAA tournament preview on this website for Marquette volleyball. Part of that is the pandemic, which scuttled the 2020 fall season. Part of that is Marquette missing the timeshifted 2020 NCAA tournament, which was played in the shortened spring season and contested with a reduced size field.

But the Golden Eagles are BACK in the field of 64 this fall, and that’s a very wonderful thing to say about the best team in MU’s entire athletic department.

It’s hard to say for certain exactly what Marquette’s ceiling is in this year’s event. By sending the Golden Eagles to the first weekend hosted by the #6 seed in the tournament, that essentially means that the selection committee saw Marquette as the potential second round opponent for a #2 seed in the basketball tournament. That either makes Marquette the #7 seed or the #10 seed, but a lot of this is done by just distance to travel as well. The NCAA is trying to save a buck here.... but it’s good news that Marquette didn’t get sent to #4 Wisconsin for the first round, too. Well, maybe. I guess there’s not much difference between being the 8/9 game and the 7/10 game.

The point of the story is we’re left wondering if Marquette would have been seeded a little bit better if Hope Werch was healthy enough to play. She’s in West Lafayette with the team, but after suffering a knee injury in MU’s second to last regular season match and not returning to the court since then, we have to expect that she won’t be in uniform here, either. Werch is still the only Golden Eagle averaging over three kills a set this year, she leads the team in points per set at 3.73, and MU’s career leader in service aces is still ranked #10 in the country in that department this year.

It’s a big loss, made even bigger by the fact that fellow outside hitter Hannah Vanden Berg was already lost for the season to a knee injury. It’s hard to say if the NCAA committee would have given MU a more favorable placement in the tournament — #12 Minnesota? #10 Nebraska? — if Werch was healthy. It’s also hard to say exactly what kind of team Marquette is right now without Werch. Savannah Rennie has shifted to outside hitter after putting together an all-Big East caliber season as a middle blocker to make up for the loss of Werch, which has led to more minutes for freshman Jenna Reitsma at hitter and sophomore Anastasija Svetnik in the middle. On top of that, Marquette’s results since losing Werch to injury — relatively easy wins over Georgetown, Villanova, and UConn along with a not unexpected loss to Creighton — are pretty much the exact results that would have been likely if Werch was playing.

So yeah, mystery team!

Not a mystery? The Dayton Flyers, who will be the opposition on Thursday afternoon. They’re really good, and not just because they have that zero in the loss column in Atlantic 10 action plus an extra two league wins from the conference tournament.

Here’s Dayton’s five losses this season:

  • then-#3 Kentucky at home
  • at then-#2 Wisconsin twice on back-to-back days
  • in five sets to a Wright State team that went to the NCAA tournament in the spring and started this season with AVCA top 25 votes
  • at Michigan, who was earning top 25 votes at the time and made the NCAA tournament

And that’s it. The Michigan loss on September 18th dropped the Flyers to 6-5 on the year..... and they have not lost since. 19 straight wins since then, including their entire A-10 schedule, a random mid-week non-con contest against Xavier, and the A-10 tourney. Over their last 19 matches, Dayton has lost just 10 sets and just three in their last five matches.

Marquette’s main concerns will be Jamie Peterson and Lexie Almodovar, and in that order. Peterson is a 6’4” redshirt senior outside hitter who leads the Flyers with 4.42 kills per set this season. She’s hitting .266 on the year and has occupied over 31% of Dayton’s total swings on the season. She’s also a reasonably successful blocker with 0.83 per set, and she’s tied with Almodovar for the team lead in service aces. Almodovar is #2 on the team in kills/set at 3.09, and she’s the only other attacker north of 2.1/set this season. The 5’8” Indiana native has taken 922 swings this year, the only other player above 500 next to Peterson, but she’s hitting just .198. If Marquette can force the Flyers to shift their offensive focus away from Peterson, Almodovar is the next option, and that hitting percentage certainly makes it look like that’s a better option for MU.

Livie Sandt is averaging 9.44 assists per set this season, so it looks like she’ll be out on the floor the whole time for head coach Tim Horsmon. Maura Collins, a senior from Ohio, looks to be getting the playing time at libero with a team high in digs at 3.61 per set. Almodovar and Peterson are actually #2 and #3 in digs/set, in that order, so UD’s defensive setup is going to be a little bit by committee more than anything else. Redshirt freshman Alayna Yates is averaging 1.17 blocks per set this season, although she did miss 10 sets somewhere along the line while playing in all 30 matches. She stands 6’6” tall, which makes for an imposing partnership at the net with the 6’4” Peterson.

The winner of this match gets the winner of Purdue and Illinois State the very next day. That’s the nighttime game at Holloway Gymnasium, and it’ll be on ESPN+ as well. Quite obviously, as the home team and the national seed, the Boilermakers will be favored, but Illinois State won the Missouri Valley tournament to reach the NCAA field for the fourth consecutive season. Marquette did sweep ISU on their floor back in September, so clearly the Golden Eagles would be pleased to see a Redbirds upset.