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RV Marquette Volleyball Preview: The Rainbow Wahine Classic

The Golden Eagles travel out to the Aloha State for their first matches of the 2021 season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 30 Northwestern State at Texas A&M Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re back! Well, more accurately, Marquette women’s volleyball is back!

It’s been just short of five months since the MU volleyball spring season came to a dull thump of a finish as the Golden Eagles lost to Creighton in the Big East championship and then unfortunately missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade. With the tournament field reduced from 64 to 48 teams and just 18 at-large teams, the margin for error for teams like Marquette from non-power conferences was razor thin. A 12 match regular season compounded that problem, and while the Golden Eagles probably could have weathered the storm of losing to Illinois State (they won the MVC and made the NCAAs) as well as a pair of losses to Creighton, both on the road, it’s possible that the fourth loss of the spring did them in.

When you’ve already absorbed two losses in a very short season, you just can not go out and lose to a Butler team that would lose all seven of their other Big East matches and expect to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. You just can’t.

You could even see it in Marquette’s body language when they tore through the Bulldogs in straight sets the very next day. “Yeah, sure, we won, whatever, our season essentially ended yesterday unless we win the Big East tournament” was nearly audible as the Golden Eagles closed out the match and just turned and walked off the court with very little celebration or fanfare.

But that was the spring. This is the fall, and head coach Ryan Theis returns every major contributor from that team. I don’t think it’s a long bridge to cross to suggest that Theis will be hammering that “no days off” point home to his team all season long. That season starts with a trip way, way out west and a trio of matches live from the Aloha State.....

Match #1: vs Texas A&M (0-0)

Date: Friday, August 27, 2021
Time: 9:45pm Central
Location: SimpliFiArena at the Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
Streaming: Marquette’s YouTube channel
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 0-1 all time against Texas A&M. The lone meeting came in the 2003 season opener, and the Aggies won a 3-0 sweep in a tournament hosted by Duke.

Texas A&M was one of those teams out there that was playing volleyball last fall as the SEC needed to justify that they were making their football players participate in games during an unchecked pandemic. The Aggies went 4-4 in the fall, winning their first four matches against LSU and Ole Miss before losing four straight against Mississippi State and Arkansas. They picked back up in February and almost nearly just kept doing the “win two lose two” thing. They swept two game series against South Carolina and Alabama, but lost two each against Missouri and Florida in the spring, but a split at Georgia provided the change up to get them to 9-9 overall last school year.

As you might expect, the Aggies are a bit off the pace in the SEC according to the preseason poll in that league. They ended up picked seventh in the conference, and their 77 points in the poll were a strong chunk of space away from sixth place South Carolina with 93 points. It’s a far cry from the preseason AVCA poll last fall when Texas A&M started off ranked #8 in the country after reaching the Sweet 16 in the fall of 2019, that’s for sure.

Texas A&M returns their top two hitters from last season. Morgan Christon led the way with 3.59 kills per set, while Lauren Davis averaged 2.43 per frame. It should be noted that Christo only played in 12 of A&M’s matches last season..... and also that neither Christon nor Davis are going to be confused for highly efficient attackers. Neither woman broke .180 in the hitting department, which is... not good, to say the least.

Camille Conner returns for a fifth season at the setter position, and she’s already established herself with the second most assists by an Aggie since the NCAA switched to rally scoring in 2008. That sounds neat, but she only averaged 9.53 per frame last season. Sabrina Sustala led TAMU in total digs last season while playing in 68 of 72 sets, although she ended up only second in digs per set when everything was said and done.

Match #2: at RV Hawaii (0-0)

Date: Saturday, August 28, 2021
Time: 11:59pm Central
Location: SimpliFiArena at the Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
Streaming: ESPN+
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 1-0 all time against Hawaii. The Golden Eagles defeated the #20 ranked Rainbow Wahine in the 2017 season opener in a five set thriller.

The title of the press release dated August 23rd, 2021, on Hawaii’s official team website: Women’s Volleyball Returns After 623 Days. Yep. The Rainbow Wahine did not play at all during the 2020-21 school year, and quite honestly, given the amount of travel required to go to and from Hawaii for literally every single possible road match, you can’t really blame them for dipping out during the pandemic.

With that said, even with all of that time off between the last match that they played in the Sweet 16 of the 2019 NCAA tournament and now, Hawaii is still the preseason favorite in the Big West. They were not a unanimous favorite, though, as Cal Poly snagged four of the available 11 first place votes.

There is not a preseason all-Big West team, but I can report that Hawaii returns Amber Igiede and Skyler Williams from the 2019 postseason all-conference First Team. Igiede, a 6’3” middle blocker from Louisiana, averaged 2.24 kills per set while hitting .355, but her impact was felt with the ball going the other direction. She averaged 1.33 blocks per set, just barely beating out Williams (1.28/set) for the team lead in that department. Williams, a 6’1” MB from California, contributed a very solid 2.19 kills per set in 2019 while hitting a whopping .393.

It will be interesting to see how connected the Hawaii offense is this early in the season, as they have lost both halves of their setting tandem from 2019. Between all that time off from live competition and adjusting to a new setter — or maybe two? — it’s entirely possible that the Wahine will take some time to get on the same page.

Match #3: vs Fairfield (0-0)

Date: Sunday, August 29, 2021
Time: 7:45pm Central
Location: SimpliFiArena at the Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
Streaming: Marquette’s YouTube channel
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

This is the first ever meeting between Marquette and Fairfield.

No Days Off keeps right on trucking for the Golden Eagles, as their third and final match of the weekend will come against the preseason favorite in the MAAC. The poll was fairly split with four teams earning at least one first place vote, but the Stags snagged six of them and would up with a nine point advantage, 96 to 87, on second place Rider.

This is coming after a spring season where Fairfield went 9-1 with only a road loss to Quinnipiac in their final match marring their record but not stopping them from claiming the regular season title. That’s where their season ended, though, as they were forced to step out of the MAAC tournament due to a COVID positive in the program and thus they did not win the league’s automatic bid. That’s a bit of a bummer, as head coach Todd Kress has won eight MAAC regular season titles in his time, including five of the last six.

Three of the eight women on the preseason all-MAAC team play for Fairfield. Outside hitter Joelle Battles was second on the team in kills per set in the spring at 3.24, and she hit .255 along the way. In 2019, Battles became the second Stag in the last decade to hit at least .250 while recording more than 300 kills, so that’s pretty neat. Middle hitter Luci Albertson chipped in 2.35 kills/set in the spring, although I would generally say that hitting .234 as a middle isn’t all that great. The six-foot tall Texan was second on the team in blocks at 0.84 per set as well. Manuela Nicollini is one of two setters on the all-conference team, which is definitely one way to go through life. She led Fairfield in assists in the spring with 9.51 per set while working her way to a third Setter of the Year trophy.