Fresh off a tournament victory out in Hawaii last weekend and with a brand new national ranking in hand, Marquette volleyball went down to not-quite-as-scenic-as-Hawaii Normal, Illinois, for another three match tourney this weekend. The Golden Eagles defeated Illinois Chicago in five sets (26-24, 25-21, 20-25, 20-25, 15-9) on Friday night before sweeping Ohio (25-19, 25-18, 25-15) on Saturday and Illinois State (25-22, 25-20, 25-22) on Sunday. Those three wins push Marquette to a perfect 6-0 record on the year and have them in prime position to move up the AVCA rankings when the new poll comes out on Monday afternoon.
I tell you what, if the season keeps going like this — Marquette Golden Eagles volleyball has to go five sets to win their first set of a weekend and then sweeps everything else — this fall campaign is going to be highly stressful but incredibly fun to watch by the end of it.
Oh, we should put this up top: Hope Werch became the 13th Marquette player to record 1,000 career kills on Sunday afternoon against Illinois State. Now, you might be saying, “isn’t this her fifth season, doesn’t that take the edge off the accomplishment?” You’re not wrong, but Marquette only played 14 matches in her fourth season, and she did this in the sixth match of her fifth season. It’s like she’s in Match #20 of her senior year right now and MU regularly plays 30 in a season.
In addition that landmark, Werch also became the second MU player to ever record 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs, joining Jamie Mueller in that club. We’re not done with milestones yet because Werch also became the first Golden Eagle to ever record 1,000 kills, 1,000 digs and 100 service aces. That’s neat, and we should talk about how great Hope Werch is more often.
As you can see from the set scores, Marquette had the match against UIC in the bag up 2-0. Sure, it wasn’t easy as the Flames pushed MU to extra points in the first set, but up 2-0 is up 2-0. The third set was competitive, but at this point, that was expected. A 3-0 run by the Flames put them up 19-16, but a kill from Savannah Rennie tied it back up at 20 apiece. And then UIC took the next five points to win the set. The fact that it was won on a set from Claire Mosher that went to no one in particular didn’t cost Marquette the set — it was 24-20 at the time — but it was a bit like hanging a sign on the fact that MU was in a bit of trouble.
In the fourth, Marquette fell behind 6-3 early on and spent the rest of the time trying to catch up. They showed a spark along the way, getting it to 6-5, tying it at 7, pulling to 11-10 and 14-13.... but the Flames kept knocking them back. A service error by Taylor Wolf started off a 4-0 run by Illinois-Chicago that left them leading 20-14, and that was just the amount of distance needed to put Marquette away and force a fifth set. MU committing three service errors and and three attack errors for six of UIC’s final nine points didn’t help, either.
And so, set #5 for the second time this season. Back and forth at the start, because these things go like that a lot of the time, but a 5-1 run by the Golden Eagles featuring three kills from Carsen Murray gave MU a 9-6 advantage as the two-thirds pole approached. That lit a fire under the Golden Eagles, and only a service error by Wolf broke up a five point run to close things out.
Rennie and Wolf tied for honors at the top of the kills chart with 16 each while Hope Werch added 13 and Carsen Murray had 10. Claire Mosher had 28 assists to lead the day paired off with 23 from Wolf, and Katie Schoessow led a four-pack of Golden Eagles in double digits in digs with 19.
When you hit .303 and you hold your opponent to just .065 including a -0.054 in the second set, you’re probably going to win. That’s what Marquette did on Saturday as they ran through Ohio relatively easily. They got out to a 6-1 start on the Bobcats in the first set, but a kill from Caroline Clippard pulled Ohio even at 10. Marquette eventually rebuilt their lead, pouncing on a service error and a bad set by Ohio to lead 22-17 and glide the plane in from there.
Ohio had the advantage, believe it or not, early on in the second period before they forgot how to hit the ball properly and ended up in the negative numbers. It was 7-3 Bobcats early after three straight errors by the Golden Eagles. MU then ripped off four straight points to tie it and get back in this thing. Marquette didn’t have full control until a 6-1 run late pushed it from 15-14 to 21-15, and eventually a kill from Taylor Wolf wrapped things up.
Set #3 looked like it was going to be interesting as the two sides mostly traded points back and forth in the beginning. Then Marquette decided to stop fooling around and ripped off five straight to take a 13-7 lead as Savannah Rennie went nuts with two kills and two assisted blocks in the burst. A 4-0 jaunt a little later on made it 20-11 and it was all over except for the end of match high fives.
Marquette spread things around incredibly well in this match as Rennie led all attackers with nine kills and six players had at least four. Wolf and Claire Mosher each had 15 assists, and Katie Schoessow cracked double digits in digs with 10.
Sunday’s match with Illinois State was supposed to be the highlight of the weekend as the Redbirds were picked to win the MVC this fall and the two teams split a pair of matches at the start of the spring season. But ISU came into the match just 2-3, and after MU outhit them .267 to .218 and dispatched them in straight sets, it wasn’t quite the highlight that we thought it might be.
It looked like it was going there in the first set as ISU racked up a couple of late points to pull within two at 23-21. Hope Werch responded with a kill and then one service error each gave Marquette the 25-22 win. The second set started out tightly played up until Marquette popped off four straight points thanks to a block by Savannah Rennie and Ellie Koontz and an error by the Redbirds to take a 13-10 lead. That gave the Golden Eagles room to breathe even though Illinois State never went away. Back-to-back aces by Hope Werch made it 23-18 late, and Carsen Murray closed it out with a kill.
Back and forth we went in the third before Marquette built a four point lead first 13-9 on an ace by Werch and then 16-12 on an error by ISU’s Tamara Otene. Still, things were tied up at 18 after Rennie made back-to-back errors and Otene landed an ace. That was the middle of an 8-3 stretch by the home team that left them with a 21-20 lead and Marquette standing around saying “damn, do we really want to have to play another set with these people?”
The answer was no, and a kill and an ace by Werch put Marquette back out in front. That was followed by two straight blocks by the team of Hannah Vanden Berg and Savannah Rennie, and after a last ditch kill by ISU’s Sarah Kushner, Ellie Koontz got to lay down the match winner.
Yet another diverse offense day for the Golden Eagles as Werch got to lead the way with 10 kills on the day she broke past 1,000 in her career. Claire Mosher beat out Taylor Wolf for the team lead in assists, 16-12, but Wolf did the eagle’s share of the dig work with a team high 11.
Up Next: Well, it’s not going to be a picnic, I’ll tell you that much. Marquette will be at home next weekend, and head coach Ryan Theis worked out one hell of a home opener. It’ll be the defending champs, the Kentucky Wildcats (5-1), coming to Milwaukee on Saturday evening. First serve is set for 6pm, and we will have to see where the Wildcats are ranked. UK started the weekend at #3 in the AVCA poll, but they suffered their first loss of the season — and only the only three sets they’ve lost all season — on Saturday when they were swept by Creighton.
After that, things get really fun on Sunday when Wisconsin comes to town. The Badgers are currently #2 in the AVCA poll and 4-0 on the season after sweeping Dayton twice this past weekend. They will actually host Kentucky at the Field House in Madison on Friday night in what will be one of the biggest non-conference matches of the season before sending the Wildcats ahead of them to Milwaukee. First serve against the Badgers is scheduled for 4:30pm.