Welcome to Big East play for volleyball!
Non-conference action is not over for Marquette, there’s still two matches to come later this month. But the league needs time to get their slate in before the NCAA tournament starts in April, and they wanted to take precautions with built in time to make sure the entire schedule gets in before the Big East tournament as well, so we have to start now.
We should probably make sure everyone understands what the Big East is doing this season. They’ve divided the conference into two divisions, with five teams on each side and Georgetown sitting this season out. Marquette is in the Midwest Division, which means that they will only play Butler, Creighton, DePaul, and Xavier this year. MU will play each team twice, and to cut down on the amount of travel involved, both matches against each foe will be in the same place on the same weekend. Take this weekend for example: Marquette is playing DePaul. Not only are they playing the Blue Demons twice this weekend, but both matches are at the McGuire Center. After this weekend, MU will not play DePaul again unless the Blue Demons qualify for the Big East tournament.
That’s probably not going to happen, though. The long time volleyball fan saw the name “Creighton” in that list of teams in the Midwest Division and immediately realized that this is setting up to be the Bluejays and the Golden Eagles as the two teams coming out of the Midwest Division for the Big East tournament. That’s a safe bet, especially after last weekend. Marquette went out to Omaha for two non-conference matches against Creighton — MU head coach Ryan Theis and CU head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth put their heads together and realized this was a smart move for both sides to help each other — and went 1-1 against the Bluejays. I’m sorry, that’s “went 1-1 on the road against the #19 team in the country.” Gotta make sure everyone understand that this is a great result for Marquette, especially since the Bluejays had won eight straight meetings before MU swept Creighton after falling in five sets the previous night.
Does that give Marquette the advantage when the two teams meet in Milwaukee for a pair next weekend? Who can say? We’ll get to that when we get to that. First up is the Blue Demons and making sure that MU starts out league play with a 2-0 record.
Big East Match #1: vs DePaul Blue Demons (0-0)
Big East Match #2: vs DePaul Blue Demons (0-0)
Marquette is 35-29 all time against DePaul. MU’s current winning streak against the Blue Demons is up to 18 straight matches, and they’ve won each of the last 24 sets against DePaul as well.
As you can see, DePaul has not played a match yet this season. That appears to be 100% by choice, as according to the Blue Demons’ schedule page, they have no non-conference matches scheduled anywhere. I don’t know if it’s the smartest thing in the world to jump feet first into Big East play against a ranked team that has won 18 straight matches and 24 straight sets against you, but that’s what DePaul is doing.
I’m going to lift a paragraph directly from DePaul’s official preview of the weekend’s matches, because I think they do a better job expressing the point I want to make. Also, they already did the heavy lifting on the match and so forth:
DePaul enters the 2021 season picked to finish third in the conference’s Midwest division just behind nationally ranked Creighton and Marquette. In 2019, the Blue Demons went 14-16 while posting a 6-12 mark in league play for the second-best record since joining the BIG EAST in 2005. The seventh-place conference finish was the highest for DePaul since reconfiguration in 2013-14.
6-12 was second best in league play in a decade and a half and finishing seventh was the best since The Reformation.
So, yeah, Marquette should be heavily favored here.
The Blue Demons return two of the three women who averaged at least two kills per set last season. Top hitter Brittany Maxwell (3.66/set) is gone, but senior right side Emma Price (2.46) and junior middle Donna Brown (2.07) return. Avarie Evans-Allen and Bailey Nelson both took more swings than Brown last season, but didn’t have the accuracy to clear two kills per set.
We’ll have to wait to see who ends up doing the setting for DePaul, as both of their rotational setters are no longer with the team. Odds are it will be junior transfer Molly Murrihy, who started 29 of 30 matches for Memphis back in 2018. Libero Isabelle Banez averaged 4.72 digs per set in 2019, so she’ll be a reliable component of the back row for DePaul this season.