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#25 Marquette Volleyball Preview: The Red & White Invitational

The Golden Eagles head down to Normal, Illinois, for three weekend contests hosted by Illinois State.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 04 Missouri Valley Conference Championship - Indiana State v Illinois State Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a five set thriller to start the season last Friday night, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles are riding high! Not only are the Golden Eagles on a seven set winning streak after sweeping Hawaii and Fairfield, but Ryan Theis’ squad is now ranked #25 in the country as well.

Okay, they’re tied for #25 with Washington State, so technically if you want to be that way about it, either MU or Wazzu is #26 in the country. I choose to believe it’s Wazzu, so there you go.

Taylor Wolf is off to a hot start, winning MVP honors in last weekend’s tournament and then snagging Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors to match it. Middle blocker Savannah Rennie and hitter Hannah Vanden Berg joined Wolf on the all-tournament team, but only Rennie earned a spot on the conference Honor Roll. There’s only so many spots for people from one team in the Big East’s weekly awards, so I don’t think we should jump up and down about HVB getting left out..... for now.

With 11 sets in the book, Marquette is firing on all cylinders. The Golden Eagles are hitting a robust .310 as a team while holding opponents to just .169. Six MU players are averaging more than 1.50 points per set, which includes kills, blocks, and aces in there, with both Wolf and Rennie north of four points each. Wolf’s timeshare at setter with Claire Mosher continues to work well with both women averaging at least five assists per set.

MU’s defense is a bit by committee at this point, with Wolf, Hope Werch, and Katie Schoessow all averaging over 2.25 digs per set but no one is north of 2.60 either. We will have to wait and see how much those dig totals go up as the season goes along because MU’s blocking numbers are out of this world right now. Rennie averaged 1.73 blocks per set last weekend, which is generally speaking an unsustainable number..... but that’s also an 11 set average, not just one match. Wolf skied for 1.27 blocks per set, which is also outrageously good, and the two of them are leaving Carsen Murray and her actually very good but currently just third on the team 1.09 blocks/set in the dust. Presuming that Rennie and Wolf come back down to earth a little bit on the blocks, the digs will go up in correlation. Can’t get digs if the ball never gets past the block, y’know?

Match #4: vs Illinois-Chicago Flames (1-2)

Date: Friday, September 3, 2021
Time: 7pm Central
Location: Redbird Arena, Normal, Illinois
Streaming: Marquette’s YouTube channel
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 5-12 all time against Illinois-Chicago. The two sides haven’t met since Marquette won in straight sets in November 2010, and the Golden Eagles have won the last five meetings dating back to 2000.

For their first action of the season, the Flames went down to Indianapolis for an event hosted by Butler. UIC won their first match, defeating Bowling Green in four sets. They were then swept by Indiana later in the day on Friday before losing 3-1 to the hosting Bulldogs on Saturday morning.

This is probably not the result that UIC was hoping for. The Flames are coming off a 14-3 spring season, their best winning percentage since joining Division 1, and that included a 13-1 Horizon League record but a championship match loss to top seeded Wright State. That was followed up with a pick as the second place team in the HL this season in the league’s preseason poll. Maybe you can brush off the Indiana loss, but this is a Butler team that scored just one win in Big East play in the spring. If UIC has Horizon League championship goals, it would certainly seems like they should have beaten Butler, even on BU’s floor.

Paola Santiago is Illinois-Chicago’s top attacker after three matches. The junior from Puerto Rico is averaging 3.36 kills per set, but she has struggled to put it on the floor and is hitting just .171. Martina Delucchi is clearing the three kills per set hurdle as well, but the Argentinian is worse off than Santiago with her .142 hitting percentage.

It looks like UIC is figuring some things out at setter. Morgan Kull is averaging just a bit over six assists per set, which is fine because it appears she’s splitting time in the rotation. Sohila Wafeek (3.70/set) appears to be the other half of the split, but she also didn’t appear in one of the Flames’ 12 sets over the weekend. Defensive Specialist Jaclyn Oblena is also averaging over one assist per set, so we’ll have to wait and see how long that trend lasts.

Everything is completely goofed up over on the defensive side for UIC, or at least three matches isn’t enough to normalize how things normally go. Santiago and Delucchi are 1-2 on the team in digs per set right now with Oblena running in third place. I feel like having your top two hitters outpace your top DS there is probably a bad sign for your team, but again, that might just be an anomaly for now. Sophomore Becca Oldendorf is making the biggest impact at the net at 0.82 blocks per set so far.

Match #5: vs Ohio Bobcats (0-2)

Date: Saturday, September 4, 2021
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Redbird Arena, Normal, Illinois
Streaming: Marquette’s YouTube channel
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 0-1 all time against Ohio. The only previous meeting came in September 2003 as part of an event hosted by Marquette where they were the gracious host and dropped two of three matches.

I don’t want to say that the 0-2 start for the Bobcats is an actual problem. First of all, they were picked to finish fourth in the MAC’s East Division, so it’s not like people were thinking that this team was stacked with world beaters. Second of all, there’s nothing wrong with getting swept by the #4 team in the country like what happened when Ohio ran into the buzzsaw known as the Washington Huskies. In match #2 on the year, they went to five sets with Northern Kentucky, and sure, maybe the Norse aren’t a top 10 buzzsaw, but five set matches can be looked at like coinflips thanks to the odd nature of the 15 point final set.

Ohio has a pair of three kill attackers in Maggie Nedoma and Olivia Margolies. Both are over three kills per set with Nedoma leading the team at 3.63, and both women are hitting better than .250 through eight sets. Nedoma is actually hitting .316, so she’s off to a fantatsic start this season. Caroline Clippard (2.63 kills/set) and Caitlin O’Farrell (2.25/set) provide the Bobcats with quality secondary attackers. Tria McLean is the engine that makes everything go, racking up over 10 assists per set so far this year.

Sophomore Sam Steele has been everywhere on defense for Ohio. The defensive specialist from Omaha is averaging 5.50 digs per set so far this fall, which generally speaking is “leads the conference” kind of stuff. The Bobcats have not been successful at countering attacks for points as Elizabeth Hoerlein’s 0.57 blocks per set is the best on the team.... and that’s not particularly good.

Match #6: at Illinois State Redbirds (0-3)

Date: Sunday, September 5, 2021
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Redbird Arena, Normal, Illinois
Streaming: ESPN+
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 3-3 all time against Illinois State. The most recent meetings came this past spring when the Redbirds came to the McGuire Center and the two sides split a pair of matches. This will be the fourth straight season where Marquette has faced off against ISU, and Illinois State’s five set victory in the second of the two spring matches snapped a three match winning streak in the series by the Golden Eagles.

We’ve been talking about how Marquette’s opponents this weekend should feel about their starts so far this season in the two previous preview segments. I think we can definitively declare that Illinois State did not expect to start the year 0-3. They won the Missouri Valley Conference last season to reach the NCAA tournament, and they’re the favorite to win the league again this fall. They’re barely a favorite, nudging past Drake by just two points and past Loyola Chicago by just 4 and six different teams earned at least one first place vote... but they are still the favorites. With just three starters back from the spring, though, perhaps they should not be. Perhaps that has something to do with why the Redbirds went out to Virginia last weekend and won just two sets while losing to VCU, High Point, and James Madison.

Tamara Otene and Sarah Kushner are ISU’s top offensive targets so far this fall, and pure volume has getting them both north of three kills per set through 11 sets. However, Otene (3.36/set) is hitting just .200 and Kushner (3.18/set) is down at .136. That’s a legitimate problem, especially with one-fifth of Kushner’s attacks going for errors.

Katelyn Lefler and Nora Janka are the setting duo for Illinois State, but it almost looks like head coach Leah Johnson is waiting for someone to distinguish themselves. Lefler played in just 10 of 11 sets, while Janka only played in eight. They’re both averaging north of six assists per set, which would be outstanding stuff...... if they were actually in a pure rotation.

Kaity Weimerskirch is handling the libero duties to the tune of 4.64 digs per set. That’s pretty good, although I would imagine that she’d pass up a few digs here and there in return for her hitters landing a few more kills instead. Nicole Lund (0.73/set) and Allie Trame (0.64/set) have been relatively effective middle blockers so far this season, but they may need to focus on altering attacks more than straight blocking if Illinois State continues to struggle.