That season opening match against #11 Kentucky is zooming towards us at this point, so it’s time to really get going and do some season previewing for Marquette volleyball!
We’re going to talk about the women that head coach Ryan Theis has returning this fall from last year’s roster in this article. Future articles will talk about newcomers to the roster and a few questions in front of the team for this season, and if you’ve missed any of this, please scroll to the bottom of the page and check out the link to our StoryStream with the entire season preview all in one place.
As it turns out, if we go in alphabetical order by position, we get to talk about two notable strengths of the returning group of players before we get to talk about two notable question mark positions. It’ll make sense as we get there, so let’s just get to it!
Marquette returns one player who saw action in all 113 sets last season, and that’s libero Carly Skrabak. On one hand, she did lead the team in digs at 3.77 per set and she was the only Golden Eagle north of three per frame on the year. However, given Theis’ style of “everyone has to do a little bit,” Skrabak only ended up with the seventh best digs average in the Big East last season. She was obviously the backbone of Marquette’s defensive efforts, it’s just that the team model last season prevented her from getting the league wide credit that she probably deserved. Given what the rest of the returning roster looks like, it’s definitely possible that Skrabak could end up getting a much bigger role or at the very least a more gaudy statistical profile this season.
It’s also pretty likely that Skrabak is going to be Marquette’s libero all year long. The senior from Tennessee is MU’s only returning DS with any kind of real experience. Jadyn Garrison and Samantha Naber were freshmen last season, and with Katie Schoessow occupying pretty much all of the “the coaches want two DS’s out there right now” playing time, that limited their ability to get on the floor. Garrison ended up with 50 sets played across 24 of Marquette’s 32 matches, which sounds like a decent amount.... but she only recorded 13 digs, only two more than her combination of service aces and service errors. Naber did more in less time, recording 20 digs in 23 sets across 17 matches. No slight to either woman, but when you’re rolling up less than a dig per set, you’re not really being relied on to actually play Defensive Specialist. Megan Lund is MU’s third depth piece in the DS department, and the good news is that the fall season allowed her to double the number of sets she played in the spring season after joining the team late in the process. That doubling moved her to 12 sets in 10 appearances, and relative to being listed as a DS? One dig against Georgetown on September 25th.
Someone has to play Katie Schoessow’s rotations this season. I don’t know who it is, but it’s going to have to be someone, and the most likely options are one of those three women. Are they going to be up to the challenge? We’ll see!
This is an interesting position for Marquette. The known quantity is Carsen Murray, who sat down for just three sets all season long last year and thus just barely missed out on that group who played in all 113. She hit .336, making her the second most precise attacker in the entire Big East at season’s end and averaged 1.54 kills per set. Pretty good stuff for someone trailing behind Savannah Rennie in terms of the MB hierarchy last year. Same goes for the stat chart in the blocks department, as Murray ended up second on the team to the now departed Rennie with 0.86 stuffs per set. That was good enough for a tie for 15th best in the Big East a year ago.
Murray’s spot in the lineup is pretty established at this point. The only question involved is whether she plays the same role or if Theis and his staff turn her loose in Rennie’s more attack minded role. The bigger question is who takes up the spot left open, one way or another, by Rennie’s departure. It could be either Claire Nuessmeier or Anastasjia Svetnik, and you could convince me either direction on this.
Nuessmeier played Murray’s role in the spring alongside Rennie, appearing in all 51 sets and averaging 1.31 kills and 0.76 blocks with a .294 hitting percentage. In retrospect, no one’s faulting the coaching staff for making the call that Murray was ready to take on that role in the fall. However, there’s only so much MB time available, and thus Nuessmeier played in just 25 sets across 18 matches last fall. She’s clearly capable of being a Big East caliber middle, as those spring numbers are perfectly respectable.
Svetnik is a different story. She transferred in from Oregon State and then, someone expectedly behind Rennie and Murray and Nuessmeier, she only played sporadically, appearing in just 10 sets thru November 6th. That’s when Marquette lost Hannah Vanden Berg for the season, and Svetnik got the call to replace her in the rotation. Starting with the Butler match on November 14th, Svetnik played in every single one of MU’s final 19 sets of the season and averaged 1.26 kills with 0.95 blocks while hitting .307. In short, she went from doing nothing to becoming either MU’s third or fourth outside hitter and made use of her 6’3” height to make excellent plays at the net on defense. To a certain extent, Svetnik’s late season contribution makes you react like Okoye in Avengers: Infinity War when she sees Scarlet Witch make her first impact on the battlefield in Wakanda: Why was she on the sideline up til now?
It could be either one, and I wouldn’t be surprised with either one. Then again, maybe Svetnik fits in better as a hitter, and that could end up opening the door for Hattie Bray to find a way onto the floor. The 6’2” sophomore didn’t play at all for the Golden Eagles last fall because if we couldn’t find time for Svetnik, how on earth could we find time for a freshman? Can’t argue with the logic structure from the coaching staff, but it leaves Bray entering her second season on campus without any live action experience. She was a top 150 prospect coming out of Wautoma High School in Wisconsin, so it could just be a case where Theis and his assistants wanted her to get used to college volleyball before turning her loose. That’s effectively what they did with Carsen Murray in the spring of 2021, so it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.
Remember a minute ago when I mentioned losing Hannah Vanden Berg for the season to a knee injury in early November last fall? Yeah. So, about that. Vanden Berg is back on the Marquette roster this fall after averaging 2.02 kills and hitting .227 in 85 sets last fall. That’s mostly fine for what amounted to Marquette’s #4 option on offense, but as you can tell from the fact that I’m leading off this section with her, that’s not going to cut it this season. Marquette rolls into this fall without Hope Werch and Taylor Wolf taking up the top two hitter spots, so multiple someones are going to have to step forward and take the top attacking positions. It could be Vanden Berg.... if she’s healthy. There’s a pair of pictures of her from practice already this fall in the MU picture archive, and the good news is that she’s not even wearing a knee brace. The bad news is she’s also not wearing knee pads while other women are, which kiiiiiiind of indicates that she’s not a 100% participant in drills and practice. This isn’t surprising since we’re only nine months removed from an injury that was so devastating that HVB was moving as little as possible on her crutches during matches at the end of last season. If she can’t go, she can’t go, and that’s that.
The real problem to the idea of Vanden Berg not being able to contribute is that she’s one of just two returning outside hitters on the roster. If there’s a reason to be worried about exactly what Marquette’s ceiling is as a team this fall, “two returning outside hitters” is a pretty good one. With Vanden Berg’s injury history to consider, the woman with the inside track to be Marquette’s primary attacker this fall is Jenna Reitsma. That inside track falls to her by default unfortunately, but it’s not without merit. As a freshman last year, she appeared in 80 of MU’s sets and missed just one match. She averaged 1.68 kills per set, which is fine for a fourth or fifth option, but hit just .152 on 433 total swings. If Reitsma is going to be the primary focus of MU’s offense this fall, the 5’11” Michigan native is going to have to be much more precise with her swings. Wolf hit .300 and Werch hit .244 while occupying nearly 40% of the team’s total attacks last season to give you an idea of what we’re talking about here. Reitsma doesn’t need to be a world beater, but she has to be much better if she’s going to be holding down the fort for an NCAA tournament contender.
If you thought Marquette had problems at outside hitter, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. In their returning setter corps, the Golden Eagles return a total of 17 assists in 14 sets. All 17 of those belong to Caroline Dragani. The one-time Portland State transfer was backing up Claire Mosher and Taylor Wolf in Marquette’s two-setter rotation for both the spring and fall seasons in 2021, and saw just 18 sets worth of action across MU’s 46 matches. She has recorded 19 career assists for the Golden Eagles, and if that is not inspiring to you for someone who might just be called on to guide the offense, well, I’m not blaming you. Nothing against Dragani here because I’d have a hard time taking Mosher or Wolf off the floor if I was the coach, but that’s the situation that Theis currently finds himself in. It also probably explains why he went out and added Yadhira Anchante to the roster, but that’s a discussion for a future article.
I suspect you can do math, so you’ve already figured out that Dragani had all 17 of those assists last season. MU’s other returning setter is Ella Foti, a 6’0” sophomore from Madison. Officially, this will be her third season with the Golden Eagles as she elected to finish up high school early and enroll at Marquette in time to be on the roster for the spring 2021 season. She didn’t play at all that spring, to the surprise of no one for all the same reasons that Dragani didn’t play much, but she was downed by a preseason injury at the start of the fall campaign a year ago and didn’t get on the court all season long. Again, it’s not like she was going to see a bunch of playing time with Mosher and Wolf on the roster, but it’s also not great that one of MU’s two returning setters heading into the 2022 season has absolutely zero on court collegiate experience.
We will have to wait and see if either Dragani or Foti make a major impact on the team this season, and that might come down to whether or not the team makes use of the two-setter rotation again in 2022.