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RV Marquette Volleyball Preview: vs #8 Kentucky & vs #2 Wisconsin

Two of the biggest home matches in team history, and they’re less than 24 hours apart.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 07 SEC Women’s Tournament - Kentucky vs Mississippi State Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Let’s just be honest about what we’re looking at here, okay?

It is 100% fine if Marquette volleyball goes 0-2 this weekend. In fact, that’s probably the likely outcome. You’re kind of supposed to lose to top 10 teams, even when you get them at home, when you’re unranked or even just barely outside the top 25 like Marquette is this week. Those teams have been evaluated to be better than you, and it’s not surprising when they beat you. That’s kind of just how things are supposed to go.

Of course, that’s not always the case. Back in 2019, Marquette beat two top ten teams in back-to-back matches. Then again, Marquette was ranked #16 and #11 for those two matches, so it was less surprising than this particular iteration of the Golden Eagles pulling it off. Those two matches were also on the road, so perhaps being in the friendly confines of the McGuire Center this weekend pays dividends for MU.

But if it doesn’t, it’s fine. It’s not going to decide MU’s NCAA tournament future based on these two matches. There’s still next weekend’s home matches in non-conference play to help build up Marquette’s resume and then a 20 game Big East schedule. That’s lots of time to build up the profile that MU needs. Wins this weekend, or even a 1-1 split, would give Marquette a little bit of breathing room to take on a slightly unexpected loss here or there along the way.

It’s a house money match, even though Marquette doesn’t have much in the bank already. If they win, it’s really great! If they lose, it’s kind of what was supposed to happen, and MU gets the bump from playing high value opponents no matter what.

Fingers crossed, I suppose....

Match #7: vs #8 Kentucky Wildcats (5-1)

Date: Saturday, September 11, 2021
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloVolleyball.tv
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 2-2 all time against Kentucky. The most recent two meetings were split with MU winning at Kentucky in 2016 and #13 UK winning in Milwaukee in 2017. Before that, we have to go back to 2000 for an encounter (UK won, 3-0), which was one year after the first ever meeting (MU won, 3-0).

One thing working incredibly in Marquette’s favor here is that head coach Ryan Theis will be able to look at the gametape of Kentucky’s 3-0 loss to Creighton last weekend. From years and years of experience, Theis and his staff are very familiar with what the Bluejays do and how they do it. Whatever they can glean from how the Bluejays went about sweeping the Wildcats and apply to how Marquette likes to play will be of immense value.

It’s not just that familiarity with Creighton will help Marquette..... it’s that Creighton has the only three set victories over Kentucky this season. UK’s five wins this year are all in straight sets. No one else this year has managed to have sustained success against the Wildcats long enough to secure 25 points before they do. There has to be something about the Jays that made a difference, and at that point, it’s all about whether or not Marquette can take advantage of whatever it is.

Meanwhile, Marquette has to deal with a pair of three kill/set attackers. Madi Skinner leads the team at 3.67 per set while Alli Stumler is up at 3.39/set. Skinner, a 6’2” sophomore, is the much more dangerous attacker as she is hitting .422 this season.... and she only hit .244 against Creighton. Emma Grome does the setting work to the tune of more than 10 helpers per set. It seems that she’s not prone to attempting setter kills, as she only has three so far in 18 sets.

On defense, it’s Riah Walker anchoring things with 4.06 digs/set. Lauren Tharp and Eleanor Beavin are regulars and chip in well at north of two digs per frame. Azhani Tealer is going to be a problem for Marquette, as she’s averaging 1.56 blocks per set so far this year. Given that the middle blocker from Texas stands just 5’10”, that’s really impressive work.

It’s worth noting that Kentucky does have one more match to be played before they come to Milwaukee that we’re not taking into account when this is being written. Sorry, y’all, I just don’t have time to write this whole preview inbetween when MU/UK starts and the end of Kentucky’s Friday night match against.......

Match #8: vs #2 Wisconsin Badgers (4-0)

Date: Sunday, September 12, 2021
Time: 4:30pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Television: FS1, oh hell yes
Streaming: FoxSports.com, I presume
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 2-20 all time against Wisconsin, and 1-14 since MU moved to Division 1 in 1986. Yep. The Badgers are good and have been for a long time. Now, it’s important to point out that the last time these teams hooked it up, back in September 2019, MU went into the UW Field House and knocked off a Badgers squad that was ranked #4 in the country at the time.

Yeah, that’s right, Kentucky has an 8pm Central start on Friday night against Wisconsin. This was going to be a big time major event of a match before the Bluejays stuck their bills in and added that 1 in the loss column for Kentucky and stopped it from being a top 5 game. Instead, now it’s only a major event between two top 10 teams.

Wisconsin has only played four matches this season as of this writing, and they’ve only played three teams. They started off the year hosting TCU (3-0) and then-#10 Baylor (3-1) at the Field House, and that was followed up the next week by hosting Dayton for a pair of matches in Madison. It’s not much, but the Badgers are coming off a Final Four appearance in the spring and it’s mostly the same roster, so they have to lose before we can knock them out of the top five.

A note on what you’re about to read: For whatever reason, Wisconsin’s stat sheet has completely missed including the Baylor match. So, all the stat numbers you’re reading are only from the TCU match and the pair against Dayton. Ain’t nothing I can do about it, y’all.

And speaking of “the same roster,” Wisconsin’s top attacker so far this year is fifth year middle blocker Dana Rettke. The 6’8” Illinois native is averaging a team high 3.71 kills/set on just 42 attacks in seven sets.... because she is hitting .548. That’s nuts. We’ll call Devyn Robinson #2 on the team in attacking at 2.67 kills/set because Julia Orzol hasn’t played since the Baylor match. 3.67 kills/set is pretty good stuff, especially when paired with Rettke, but we’ll have to wait and see if Orzol is available for the Badgers this weekend.

Super senior Sidney Hilley is handling the setting for Wisconsin, and surprise! Wisconsin’s offense is very good so their setter has gaudy numbers. 12.11 assists per set for Hilley is really great and really explains how dangerous Wisconsin’s offense is. Lauren Barnes is averaging 3.44 digs per set on the defensive end, and Hilley is #2 there at 2.11. I would suspect that the reason why the team’s dig numbers are so low (no one else averages more than two per set) is because you have to let the other team send the ball over the net to record a dig, and well, Wisconsin is too busy scoring points. That, and Rettke’s rejecting 1.43 attacks for a point per set this season. Can’t get digs when the attacks don’t get through to the back row, y’know? Danielle Hart has played in eight of the nine sets this year and 6’4” Virginia native is averaging a block per set as well.