Look, we only have so much time before tomorrow’s Big East championship game, so let’s get through these things in order, shall we?
ITEM #1 — Marquette volleyball swept St. John’s in the Big East tournament semifinals!
That was pretty cool!
After going nearly a month without any on court live competition, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles stepped out onto the court at D.J. Sokol Arena and swept St. John’s, 3-0, on set scores of 25-17, 25-17, and 27-25 on Friday afternoon. That win advanced MU to the Big East championship for the fourth straight tournament.
I don’t want to say that Marquette was cruising from the get-go, because quite honestly, they won Set #1 in a pretty ugly fashion. MU hit just .176, but they did hold the Johnnies to a flat .000 hitting percentage, which is nice. The score makes it look like the Golden Eagles rolled through, and a 4-0 run in the middle flipped things up from 15-9 to 19-9 to guide the way home. Set #2 was much more of your regular type of cruising to a victory set, as MU hit .355 and held East Division champion St. John’s to just .088. It was 8-1 Marquette out of the gate, but the Red Storm cut that lead to just two at 10-8. Five of the next six points went to the Golden Eagles, and they just kept SJU at arm’s length from there.
Set #3 is the reverse of Set #1, where Marquette held a notable hitting advantage but the game was actually very close. MU hit .314 in what turned into the deciding set while the Johnnies hit .143. It looked like Marquette might run away with it when a SJU attack error by Jordan McCalla made it 11-5 Golden Eagles, but the Red Storm scored seven of the next eight points to tie this thing back up at 12 each. St. John’s would eventually take a 17-14 lead, but that didn’t hold up very long. Katie Schoessow recorded an ace for Marquette to tie the set up at 19, but St. John’s got up to a three-point lead again when Rachele Rastelli recorded back-to-back aces of her own.
St. John’s got the thing to set point, 24-22, but MU fended it off twice once on a kill by Savannah Rennie and another time as Efrosini Alexakou, the Big East Player of the Year, missed a strike wide down the line. 24-all. Kaitlyn Lines moved MU to match point, but Alexakou got a kill when Hope Werch didn’t successfully block her.
It’s important to mention that it was Werch there, because she turned around and paid that off. The senior from Neenah rifled a kill to the floor to make it 26-25, and then solo stuffed Ariadni Kathariou for the match winner.
Somehow I got through all of that without mentioning Hannah Vanden Berg, who was outstanding for the Golden Eagles. She finished with a team high 12 kills while hitting .478 on the day. Werch was the only other attacker in double digits in kills with 10, and she hit .364. Taylor Wolf had a double-double on 20 assist and 13 digs while adding eight kills of her own while Claire Mosher was doing the setting for the Golden Eagles.
And so, onwards to Saturday......
SPRING 2021 BIG EAST VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT
Midwest #1 Creighton Bluejays (11-3, 7-3 Big East) vs Midwest #2 Marquette Golden Eagles (10-3, 4-2 Big East)
All-Time Series: Creighton leads, 19-5.
Season Series: Split 1-1, with both matches in Omaha
And so, even though they were crammed in the same division for the regular season, the two best teams in the Big East meet in the conference tournament title game.
We’ve already seen these two teams play each other twice this season, and it was only technically as part of the Big East league schedule. When Creighton beat Marquette 3-2 on February 5th and Marquette beat Creighton 3-0 on February 6th, the teams and coaches believed that those were non-conference matches before the two teams met “for real” two weeks later in Milwaukee. Those Wisconsin matches never happened because the Bluejays had a COVID issue, and they were never made up.... because the Big East office elected to just count the non-conference contests as conference meetings instead of trying to rescheduling the canceled ones.
I respect the decision making process here, I’m just disappointed I didn’t get to watch Marquette-Creighton two more times like I was supposed to.
Then again, maybe this saved Marquette fans from heartbreak. After all, that 3-0 sweep snapped an eight match winning streak in the all-time series by the Bluejays. In fact, Creighton has now won 15 of the last 17 meetings dating back to — drumroll please — Marquette winning the 2013 Big East tournament title on the very court that Saturday’s game will be played on. Time is a flat circle, etc.
While Marquette went nearly a month without playing before Friday’s semifinal match, Creighton has gone 7-1 since facing off against the Golden Eagles. After Marquette swept the Bluejays, they only lost on the road to Kansas State. They had to go to five sets to beat DePaul and Xavier, but everything else was a sweep for the Bluejays the rest of the way.
I’m sure that head coaches Kirsten Bernthal Booth and Ryan Theis would be able to give you a much more interesting in depth discussion of what happened in the first two meetings this season, but there are two things I want to point out. ITEM THE FIRST: Marquette had Creighton on the ropes in the five-set loss to the Bluejays. MU was up 2-1 after three sets, and the Golden Eagles were up 10-7 in the first-to-15 fifth set. ITEM THE SECOND: The team that had a noticeable hitting advantage won the match. Creighton won while outhitting Marquette .231 to .100, while the Golden Eagles defeated the Bluejays in a sweep while hitting .259 against CU’s .173. Yes, I’m sure there’s a lot more going on deep inside the strategy and tactics, but the first two matches were decided in a simple manner.
It would appear that Jaela Zimmerman was the primary attacker for Creighton in both Marquette matches earlier this season, but that doesn’t track with CU as a whole this year. Zimmerman is leading the team in kills per set at 3.39, but she’s only 24 attacks ahead of Keeley Davis, who averages 3.16 kills/set. Most likely what this means for Marquette is 1) Creighton will just roll with whichever attacker is having a better day and 2) the Jays feel that running offense through Zimmerman over Davis is an advantage against the Golden Eagles.
Like Marquette, Creighton rolls with a two-setter system. Ally Van Eekeren got the start against UConn in the Big East semifinals, but she had just 24 assists against 17 for Mahina Pua’a. Eekeren is one of just four Bluejays to play in all 53 sets this season, so it seems that the Bluejays might lean towards here just evvvvver so slightly. While Ellie Bolton might be playing libero, Creighton doesn’t lean on her. She averages only 3.62 digs/set, and while that’s the best mark on the team, Zimmerman and Davis are both north of 2.5/set themselves.
I’m going to give Naomi Hickman her own paragraph, because the middle blocker from Kansas seems to have a weird ability to be extra prolific against Marquette. Hickman recorded 15 blocks in eight sets against Marquette this season, or 1.88 per set. In the other 45 sets she’s played this season? 1.11 blocks per set. The Golden Eagles can not afford to let points get swallowed up by Hickman in this match.