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#24 Marquette Volleyball Preview: vs Saint Louis & vs Iowa State

The Golden Eagles take on a pair of non-conference opponents after an unplanned week off.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Iowa State at West Virginia Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I think this weekend poses an interesting test for Marquette volleyball.

They were gearing up last week for two home contests with a ranked Creighton squad that were likely to determine who won the Big East’s Midwest Division. Then, about 30 hours before the first match was set to start, it was announced that COVID issues with the Bluejays were preventing them from traveling to Milwaukee for the matches. Suddenly, Marquette’s preparation was unnecessary, and they were going to have to wait another week before playing again.

How do the Golden Eagles respond to that? They were mentally preparing to fight for the league title.... and then suddenly they weren’t, and there wasn’t going to be another opponent to spend that energy on until the following Thursday afternoon. Is Marquette going to be ready to attack with vigor to secure two more wins and push themselves towards one of the at-large bids in the trimmed down NCAA tournament in April? Is merely the idea of preserving their #24 ranking in the AVCA poll enough to motivate them this weekend?

We haven’t really talked about this all that much, but: The season’s half over. At 6-2, Marquette has already played eight matches, and if we presume that the Creighton contests will be rescheduled, MU only has eight more to go. If we don’t see the Bluejays again, then they only have six to go including this weekend’s matches, and we’re already well past the halfway mark. It feels like the season is only underway, and given that the usual regular season goes from late August through Thanksgiving, that makes sense. But the Big East tournament is coming up in the first weekend in April, and the conference has scheduled everyone an open weekend before that to make sure matches get in. Right now, we’re only 18 days away from MU’s final scheduled match of the regular season.

This is the home stretch of the year. This is the time to lock in and drive forward to the NCAA tournament, and make it 10 straight appearances for the Golden Eagles.

Match #9: vs Saint Louis Billikens (5-4, 4-1 Atlantic 10)

Date: Thursday, February 25, 2021
Time: 11am Central
Location: A very empty Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: GoMarquette.com, with Patrick Reed and Michelle Griffin-Wenzel on the call
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 16-20 all time against Saint Louis. The Golden Eagles have won four out of the last five meetings dating back to 2003, including each of the last two in the past two seasons.

All of Saint Louis’ wins so far this spring have come in their last six contests. They’re 5-1 in that stretch, with a 1-1 record against Dayton and a 3-0 record against Davidson. They picked up their first win of the year back on February 9th when they welcomed Butler to Chaifetz Pavilion. Quite honestly, I have zero idea what the Atlantic 10 is doing for a conference schedule this season between SLU going to VCU for one match and then hosting Davidson for three and also hosting VCU for two and visiting Dayton for two in March. Oh, and one of SLU’s matches against Dayton was a non-conference tilt. It’s all very weird, and I choose not to worry about it other than making you think about it.

Going 1-1 against Dayton is pretty good news for the Billikens, as the Flyers were the preseason pick to win the A-10. VCU was picked to finish second and Saint Louis landed in third, so they are 1-2 against the teams ahead of them in the standings. That’s not too bad for just three matches, and the loss to Dayton is the one that doesn’t count in the standings. Pretty sneaky stuff.

Maya Taylor, a senior from Idaho of all places, leads SLU on the attack this spring, giving them 3.36 kills per set. Taylor is the only hitter with more than 190 swings, and she’s up north of 320. She’s also only hitting .183 with nearly half as many errors (51) as she has kills (111). Saint Louis has a trio of relatively solid threats averaging between 2.0 and 2.5 kills per set, so Marquette’s blocking will have to keep their eyes open to see where the ball is going. There’s also Lily Welti, who ranks #3 on the team in kills per set, but she’s only played in four of their nine matches, and didn’t get into either of the last two. I don’t know if she’ll be available, but if she is, that’s another option for the Billiken attack.

Senior Kennedy Cordia handles the setting duties full time, averaging 9.79 assists per set. Junior Emily Imo looks to be the Libero at 3.48 digs/set, but it seems that defense is a by-committee type thing for SLU. Weirdly, Cordia is second on the team in digs, so it’s pretty impressive that she’s up near 10 assists/set while making the first touch more than twice per set, too. Saint Louis is not a particularly adept blocking team, at least not in terms of turning those into points. 6’2” junior middle blocker Sara Daniels leads the team with 0.73 blocks per set.

Match #10: vs Iowa State Cyclones (5-9, 5-9 Big 12)

Date: Saturday, February 27, 2021
Time: 2pm Central
Location: A very empty Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: GoMarquette.com, with Shane Hogan, Zoe Comerford and Aimee Galaszewski on the call
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

A quick note about Iowa State, if I may: They went 5-9 in Big 12 action in the fall, as the NCAA allowed team to compete if they wanted, and that’s how they’ve managed to get 14 matches in “this season.” If I recall correctly, those matches are going to count for the NCAA tournament in April, which probably explains why their Friday match against Saint Louis will be their first spring match. They are only going to play six times between now and the end of March, and only two of those matches will be in Big 12 play.

Marquette is 2-2 all time against Iowa State, but 2-1 since officially joining Division 1. MU has won each of the past two encounters, winning in straight sets in 2015 over the #21 ranked Cyclones and again in a sweep in 2016.

Okay, so, sure, Iowa State has nine losses. However, four of them — all in a row back in October — came against then-#1 Texas and then-#2 Baylor. Now, once the rest of the country has been bumped into the AVCA poll, Texas is #2 and Baylor is #6. The Longhorns are contending with Wisconsin for the top spot in the poll, and losing six straight sets to them is no big deal. Same with going down in sweeps twice in a row to the Bears, even at home. The problem is that Iowa State compounded their problem by following those four losses up with two more on the road against West Virginia and another one at home against Kansas.

It’s hard to say for certain what we’ll see from the Cyclones when they get to the McGuire Center. Friday’s contest against SLU will be their first since winning on the road against TCU on November 21st. They’ve been presumably practicing the whole time that Marquette has been available to practice for their matches, so it’s not like ISU is stepping out of cryostasis on Friday morning. Still, three months without a live opponent is an awful long time, and as we’ve established, ranked teams have given the Cyclones a lot of trouble in the first place this school year.

With the caveat that we’re not 100% sure that everyone from the fall is still eligible and on the roster, Eleanor Holthaus is leading Iowa State in kills this year. The junior right side hitter is going for 3.09 kills/set, and she’s hitting a pretty robust .305 to make that happen. Interestingly, she is not Iowa State’s leading attacker, as junior and Wisconsin native Brooke Andersen has stacked up 80 more attacks than her. Andersen is averaging 2.70 kills/set but is only hitting .167. Inducing attacks from Andersen, a less reliable swinger as opposed to Holthaus, seems to be a winning strategy for Marquette, but it’s not like the Golden Eagles have a lot of control as to where ISU’s setter sends the ball. Candelaria Herrera and Annie Hatch are both averaging more than two kills per set as well, so MU has to be wary of who’s in the front row.

At a glance, it looks like Iowa State is going with a two setter rotation. Piper Mauck and Jenna Brandt have nearly identical per set averages at 7.37 and 7.35 assists each. However, Mauck has only played in 10 of ISU’s 14 matches, while Brandt missed one entirely. Take the Cyclones’ last match of the fall for an example. Mauck threw together 47 assists in a 3-2 win over TCU. She played in all five sets. Brandt played in three and didn’t even register an assist. It looks like head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch is going with one or the other for a particular match, and then occasionally subbing the other one in for serving. That’s how you get a diminished assist rate, at least.

Izzy Enna is a monster in the back for the Cyclones. At 4.70 digs/set, the senior from Kansas City is averaging more than twice as many digs per frame as anyone else on the roster. The aforementioned Candelaria Herrerra is the blocking star on the squad. The 6’1” Argentinian averages 1.11 blocks per set, and she has six solos on the year already.