We’ve said it as an abstract in the past: Every Marquette volleyball match since losing to Creighton on October 14th earlier this season has been for the Big East regular season title.
This weekend, it becomes real, as if everything else goes to plan — aka Marquette beats Xavier on Friday — Saturday’s match will be for the Big East regular season title.
Marquette has needed to go step for step with the Bluejays after that loss in order to turn Saturday’s regular season finale into a contest for a split title between the two teams. That’s exactly how it has gone with the Golden Eagles coming into the final two regular season matches of the 2022 season with a record of 15-1 in league contests against 16-0 for Creighton. The two teams are guaranteed to be the top two seeds in the conference tournament next week in Omaha, but the seeding is not decided and will not be decided until the conclusion of Saturday’s match.
Marquette needs to win both matches to claim at least a share of the regular season title. A win by Creighton on Friday night in Chicago against DePaul will guarantee at least a split Big East title by moving the Bluejays to 17-0 on the year and moving to a position where MU can do no better than beating Creighton on Saturday to force a tie at 17-1. If I understand the tiebreakers properly, a three or four set win by Marquette will give the #1 seed in the conference tournament to the Golden Eagles, whereas a five set win by MU would send the tiebreaker along to head-to-head point totals, and that’s not going to be clear who has the advantage until that match is actually played. Although, we should point out that Creighton holds a 108-93 advantage already from the match in Omaha.
Wanna talk about the RPI for a minute? It’s a big weekend for Marquette in that respect. The Golden Eagles are sitting at #14 in the RPI after last weekend’s matches, which has them firmly in the conversation to earn a top 16 national seed and thus host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. Creighton comes into the weekend at #13 in the ol’ RPI, and another top 25 win — Kentucky is at #10, which is extremely helpful to Marquette — will go a long way towards moving MU towards postseason matches with a home crowd behind them. Playing Xavier’s not exactly nothing either as the Musketeers start off the weekend at #102.
So, yeah, big weekend all around for Marquette, oh, and Friday night is Senior Night for Caroline Dragani, Megan Lund, Claire Nuessmeier, Carly Skrabak, and Hannah Vanden Berg. Could be their final matches in the McGuire Center.... or maybe with a teensy bit of luck they’ll get to suit up at 770 North 12th Street one more time.
Big East Match #17: vs Xavier Musketeers (18-8, 11-5 Big East)
Marquette is 18-9 all time against Xavier, and 16-7 since MU moved to Division 1 competition. The Golden Eagles have won eight straight matches against the Musketeers, dropping just three sets across those matches since 2017. MU has won four straight contests in Milwaukee dating back to 2016.
When Marquette beat Xavier 3-0 earlier this season in Cincinnati, it dropped the Musketeers to 11-7 overall and 4-4 in the Big East. It was also their fourth loss in their last five matches, so it’s safe to say that things were not going particularly well for them. That has changed big time in the intervening time, as they have now won seven of their last eight contests, with only a 3-1 home loss to Connecticut fouling them up in the meantime. It has of course, been slightly to their benefit that they didn’t play Creighton a second time this season, but hey, that’s what happens when the Big East refuses to play a full 20 match round robin. Xavier hasn’t dropped a set at all since that loss to the Huskies, beating Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John’s in straight sets for a three match winning streak right now.
They will be playing for seeding this weekend on their visits to Marquette and DePaul. Xavier is 11-5 on the season, two games ahead of UConn in the loss column. If the two teams end up in a tie at 11-7 — the Huskies have only one match left after beating Providence on Wednesday — then Xavier finishes fourth in the Big East because Connecticut took the season series 2-0. Of course, as Marquette fans, we would prefer that everything come down to Saturday’s match at DePaul for XU, but they would probably enjoy nothing more than to solve that problem sooner rather than later.
Brooklyn Cink has raised her game since Marquette last saw Xavier. She’s now averaging 3.41 kills per set and hitting .272 on the season, both of which are improvements from mid-October. The senior from Kansas is averaging 3.58 kills and hitting .270 in Big East play, so she’s really ironed things out, and thanks to averaging a little more than a service ace per match and just over half a block per set, Cink is averaging 4.26 points per set in league action. That’s fifth best in the Big East and just a touch better than Aubrey Hamilton, MU’s points leader.
Carrigan O’Reilly is averaging 10.49 assists per set in conference play, which is great, of course, as she’s one of five setters in double-digit land. Lucia Corsaro leads Xavier in digs this season at 4.07 per set.... but she’s also played just one match — their most recent one against St. John’s — since October 29th. She was held to single digit digs in each of her last three appearances, including playing all five sets of a win over the Johnnies on October 28th and had just five against SJU last weekend. Junior Stevie Wolf seems to have taken over the libero spot in the meantime, at least in terms of digs totals.
Big East Match #18: vs #11 Creighton Bluejays (24-3, 16-0 Big East)
Marquette is 5-25 all time against Creighton. That series dates back to a neutral site match in 1980, but that was before MU’s transition to Division 1. Since picking it up after that in 2005, it’s “only” a 5-24 record. Marquette has lost 12 of the last 13 matches against Creighton at this point with the most recent win in Milwaukee coming back in October 2017.
Look, the Bluejays are really good. That’s why they’re #11 in the country. Last weekend, they had to talk Big East Player of the Year candidate Norah Sis out of playing due to a relatively minor injury, and the closest that Seton Hall or St. John’s got to them in six sets was 22 points. That was in the third set against the Johnnies, and the Red Storm had to rally from down 20-15 to tie it at 22 to get there. I mean, good God, they held the Pirates to just seven points in the last set of the weekend, and again: This is without Sis doing anything at all the entire time.
This is, as it was in the first meeting this season, the two best hitting offenses in the league facing off against the two best hitting defenses in the league. MU is the better attacking team by hitting percentage, .289 to .269, while the Bluejays hold the advantage on defense, .167 to .172. They’re 1-2 in assists and 1-2 in kills as well. Even when they’re not the best two teams in the Big East, the difference between the two teams is miniscule. They’re 4-5 in blocks and 2-4 in aces. Creighton holds an edge in digs, coming in as the top team in the Big East there while Marquette is only #6... but even then, the difference between the two squads is just 1.36 per set.
I wasn’t joking about Sis as POY. She’s averaging 4.16 kills per set this season, which means she’s running away with that category. DePaul’s Jill Pressly is #2 there at just 3.80 per frame. Kiana Schmitt, Keeley Davis, and Ava Marin are tertiary attackers at best given that they’re all at about half as many attacks as Sis even with their fearless leader sitting out last weekend, but they’re all averaging more than 2.30 per set as well and all hitting above .250. In short: Settter Kendra Wait has options around her pretty much at all times, no matter what substitution pattern head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth is using.
Oh, and they’re not goofs on the back end, not even in the slightest. Allison Whitten has been a great option as the top defensive specialist at 3.94 digs per set, but it’s very much a team effort. Davis and Wait are both averaging more than three digs per frame this season, so you have to make the effort to beat them to the floor. Schmitt (0.96) and Kiara Reinhardt (0.84) are getting it done at the net, and if you don’t come correct, they will get your with the block.