2022 NCAA Volleyball Tournament
#1 Texas Longhorns (24-1, 15-1 Big 12) vs #4 Marquette Golden Eagles (29-3, 17-1 Big East)
Date: Thursday, December 8, 2022
Time: 1:30pm Central, or 30 minutes after the conclusion of Minnesota/Ohio State
Location: Gregory Gym, Austin, Texas
Television: ESPN2, with Courtney Lyle and Holly McPeak on the call
Live Stats: NCAA.com, because the NCAA is weird about giving you a normal stats feed for their tournament matches.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
All Time Series: This is the first ever meeting.
We all know how #4 seeded Marquette got to this point of the season. There was the season opening win over then-#11 Kentucky. There was running off wins in 25 of 26 matches, including sweeping then-#11 Creighton to earn a share of the Big East’s regular season title with a 17-1 mark in league action. There was the Big East title match loss in five sets to those Bluejays, the second five set loss to Creighton in Omaha this season. Finally, the 3-0 wins over both Ball State and #5 seed and #13 ranked Georgia Tech in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
#1 seeded Texas had a much more straight forward path to get here: They beat everyone they played, except for one five-set slipup on the road in Ames against Iowa State in October. That includes six wins over ranked foes this season. They swept Fairleigh Dickinson and Georgia in their first two NCAA tournament matches, and that means that Longhorns have lost just one set in their last seven matches. That one came at home to #15 Baylor.
Texas is not just the #1 seed in the region, they are the #1 team in the AVCA top 25 poll as the tournament started. They have been #1 in the country for all but two versions of the poll this season: #2 in the preseason edition to Nebraska’s #1, and #2 in the October 24th edition to again Nebraska. As you’d expect, that’s the poll following UT’s only loss of the year, a five set thriller on the road against Iowa State.
I bring this up to get to this point: I believe this is the first time that Marquette has ever faced the #1 team in the country. The official MU record book on GoMarquette.com doesn’t have a rundown of every single match against a ranked team, so I’m being forced to settle for merely doing a Control-F search for #1 to check, but nothing comes back. In fact, MU has just one meeting all-time with the #2 team in the country, a 2015 NCAA tournament loss to Minnesota. All-told, Thursday afternoon’s match will be just the 10th time in program history, again as far as I can tell, that Marquette has ever played a top five team. Marquette is just 1-8 all time in the previous nine contests, with the win coming in MU’s 2019 visit to Wisconsin.
So, yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.
Marquette’s biggest problem will come in closing down Logan Eggleston and Madisen Skinner. They’re the top two attacking threats on the UT roster, going for 4.21 and 3.68 kills per set this season. Eggleston is hitting just barely below .300 on the year, while Skinner is just above it at .306, so it’s not like MU has the luxury of trying to get Texas to lean on an inefficient hitter. Texas’ offense is ruthlessly efficient, getting 11.48 assists per set from senior setter Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres on their way to 13.64 as a team on 18.63 kills per set.
I want to make this clear: It’s a “first to 25, win by two” sport, and the Longhorns get nearly 75% the way there on average just on their kills. Blocks and aces and attacking errors are for nerds.
Senior libero Zoe Fleck is doing a heck of a job on the backline, averaging 4.41 digs per set when no one else is north of 1.9 per frame. Again: Texas is terminating rallies in a brutal fashion, so it’s not like there’s a lot of chances to record digs. That involves the ball coming back over the net. I was merely joking about Texas not caring about blocks, because 6’3” redshirt senior Asjia O’Neal is averaging 1.19 per frame this year. Chicago native Kayla Caffey has been in and out of the lineup for Texas this year, but when she’s in, she’s getting to balls at the net, recording 1.02 blocks/set.