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2021 Spring Big East Volleyball Tournament Semifinals Preview: #1 St. John’s vs #2 Marquette

The Golden Eagles return from a long layoff to face off against the East Division champions in the conference tournament semifinals.

Big East Basketball Tournament - First Round Via Getty



East #1 St. John’s Red Storm (10-3, 6-2 Big East) vs Midwest #2 Marquette Golden Eagles (9-3, 4-2 Big East)

Date: Friday, April, 2, 2021
Time: 1:30pm Central
Location: D.J. Sokol Arena, Omaha, Nebraska
Streaming: Big East Digital Network on the Big East’s YouTube channel
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 17-6.
Season Series: None

If you felt like you forgot that the Marquette volleyball season was still going on, well, that’s fair. The Golden Eagles haven’t played a match since March 6th, a straight sets sweep of Butler. They were supposed to start a weekend set against Xavier seven days later, but that was tossed out as a result of a COVID issue on the Marquette roster. That trip to Cincinnati was going to be the regular season finale for the Golden Eagles anyway, so they’ve been sitting idle over the last two weeks as the league elected to have Xavier reschedule their matches with Creighton instead so those two teams could face each other on the court to decide who would be the #1 seed out of the Big East’s Midwest Division and who would have their season ended. No matter what happened there, Marquette would be in the Big East tournament.

Spoiler alert: Creighton won both matches.

And so now Marquette is set to play their first match in almost exactly four weeks, and it’s a pretty big deal. Not only is it the Big East tournament semifinals, which is a pretty big jump from “not playing at all for a month” to “win or go home” type volleyball, but MU needs to bolster their case for an NCAA tournament berth. Through games played on March 28th, Marquette has an RPI rank of #30 in the country. Since the NCAA is going with a 48 team NCAA tournament this year with most of the spots taken up by automatic bids, it’s likely that #30 isn’t good enough to get into the field as an at-large bid. That would be a real bummer for Marquette if they missed the NCAA tournament this spring, as it would snap a nine year streak of tournament appearances.... but MU knew what the deal was when the spring season started.

The good news is that Marquette will play a top 30 team on Friday afternoon in the semifinals, and it’ll be on a neutral court which is helpful to MU’s RPI. St. John’s won the Big East’s East Division this season with a record of 6-2, and they come into Omaha riding a five match winning streak as well as a seven set winning streak. St. John’s is a weird team if only for one reason: The 2021 Spring Big East Player of the Year is an attacker on the Red Storm roster, but she’s not the best attacker on the roster. Efrosini Alexakou finished the regular season averaging 4.18 kills per set and hitting .208. Rachele Rastelli, who is not the POY, averaged 4.23 kills and hit .353. The difference in kills average may just come down to the fact that Alexakou missed SJU’s match against Rhode Island, while Rastelli threw down 25 kills in four sets in that match. Still, given Rastelli’s huge advantage in hitting percentage, I’m fascinated by the coaches in the league voting for Alexakou over her teammate even though Alexakou was clearly the star of the show when she was in the lineup.... even if that was to SJU’s detriment in terms of hitting percentage.

SJU’s offense is going to primarily come from those two women. No one else in the regular rotation is averaging more than two kills per set and no one else has more than 170 attacks in the 13 matches that the Red Storm have played this season. If Marquette’s blocking schemes can effectively limit St. John’s from getting clean looks from Alexakou and Rastelli thus forcing someone else to try to take big swings in big moments, that might go a long way towards helping MU get the win.

Tiziana Baumrukova, a senior from Prague, handled almost all of the setting duties this spring, averaging a robust 11.67 assists per set. On the defensive side of things, sophomore Iliana Rodriguez anchors the back line with 3.96 digs/set. Alexakou and Jordan McCalla help out quite a bit with both women averaging over two digs per set. Ariadni Kathariou, a 6’1” junior from Greece, has been outstanding at the net for St. John’s this season. She averages 1.20 blocks per set, so MU’s attackers will need to work around her. The Golden Eagles have a lot of options in terms of hitters, so moving it around from Taylor Wolf to Hope Werch to Hannah Vanden Berg to Kaitlyn Lines to Savannah Rennie should be pretty helpful in reducing the effectiveness of Kathariou.

The winner of this semifinal game will advance to Saturday’s championship match, where they will play either Creighton or Connecticut. It was supposed to be Providence as the #2 seed out of the East Division, but a COVID issue knocked the Friars out of the tournament and put the Huskies in their place. CU/UConn will be the first semifinal match on Friday, with first serve set for 11am Central time. Saturday’s championship match will be at 11:30 am Central time, and it will be broadcast on FS1.