Are you ready for the Marquette volleyball season to start on Friday???
Hey, hold on now. The answer can not be “yes,” not quite yet! You haven’t read this article about three of the biggest questions facing Marquette this fall yet! Be sure to go back and read all of our season previewing, too!
Okay, on with the show!
QUESTION #1 — Who is going to hit for Marquette this season?
No, seriously, literally, who is going to do it?
Marquette has just two returning outside hitters from last season in Hannah Vanden Berg and Jenna Reitsma. That’s it. Amongst people listed as outside hitters on the roster, MU returns just 4.51 points per set. 3.70 kills per set, if you prefer to think of it that way. 306 total kills out of over 1,500 last season. So obviously, those two are your set in stone starters....... except Vanden Berg suffered a season ending knee injury last year in November and is not 100% right now. The literal phrasing talking about her in the official GoMarquette.com team preview: “will aid the lineup when she works her way back from injury.”
The good news is that one of Marquette’s newcomers is a legitimate high major attacker. Aubrey Hamilton led Notre Dame in kills last season, so she should be mostly reliable to play a rotation piece this year. Anastasija Svetnik stepped in last season to play rotations after Vanden Berg and Hope Werch went down with injuries, so maybe she shifts over from middle blocker as listed on the roster to play on the outside. Or maybe Svetnik takes up Savannah Rennie’s spot in the middle and generates offense from there.
If that’s the case, then MU still needs at least one other outside hitter to be a viable option just for substitution reasons. The Golden Eagles will have to turn to one of three freshmen: Ella Holmstrom, Sienna Ifill, and Natalie Ring. They’re the only other hitters on the roster. It seems like, from head coach Ryan Theis’ own words in the team preview, that Ifill and Ring are the more likely options to step in, but given the situation that the Golden Eagles find themselves, as long as literally anyone can hit .250+ and average over two kills a set, they get to play as far as I’m concerned.
QUESTION #2 — Can Marquette seriously be a Big East title contender this year?
Marquette won their second ever conference title last fall, ending up in a tie with Creighton for the top spot in the Big East. Ties still count towards hoisting a championship trophy, so the 2021 trophy goes next to the 2013 trophy in the McGuire Center. With the loss of 66.1% of MU’s total points from last season — and that number skyrockets to 72% if you do the math by points per set thanks to injuries down the stretch — I didn’t think there was much chance at all of the Golden Eagles pulling off back-to-back conference titles for the first time in program history. Mix in a heavy dose of Ryan Theis replacing both of his assistant coaches this offseason, especially Megan Keck who had been with him since before arriving in Milwaukee, and that’s an awful lot of doubt on what’s going to happen this fall in general. That’s without even mentioning that Creighton, the other half of that conference title tie, brings back most of their key players from last season.
And then the results of the Big East coaches preseason poll came out.... and someone gave Marquette a first place vote. Technically two someones did, but we all know one of them is Creighton’s Kirsten Bernthal Booth because she’s not allowed to vote for her own team in that poll. One of the other nine coaches in the league thinks that Marquette is good enough to come out ahead of the Bluejays by the time Thanksgiving rolls around and it’s time for the conference tournament. Is that a ringing endorsement of Marquette or a stout criticism of the Bluejays. I lean towards the first because I don’t know how you look at that Jays roster and don’t vote them as the favorite. I can’t possibly see someone looking at what CU has and saying “pfffft, bunch of goofs, Marquette in a walk.”
Now it’s just one vote for Marquette that came from somewhere that isn’t the Creighton coach who can’t vote for her team. The other eight votes went to the Bluejays, as I expected they would. But someone does believe in the Golden Eagles this fall to be the best team in the league. That has to be worth something, right?
It also raises one final big time question.....
QUESTION #3 — How much trust and faith does head coach Ryan Theis deserve going forward, year in and year out?
I think the last time I doubted Ryan Theis was going into 2015, his second season as Marquette head coach. Bond Shymansky had won the program’s first ever Big East title in his final year before taking the Iowa job, and Theis came in with the charge of extending MU’s streak of the first three NCAA tournaments in program history. He did exactly that, putting the Golden Eagles into the NCAA field in his first year. Good stuff all around.
That offseason, Autumn Bailey, the 2014 Big East Player of the Year, transferred to Michigan State. Nele Barber, #2 on the team in kills that year, also transferred out, as did Gabby Benda who played the majority of sets as setter all season long. Lindsey Gosh, #3 on the team in kills in 2014, was a senior that year. The point of the story is that the guts of what made that NCAA team go were gone for various reasons. Theis appeared to be stapling a roster together to try to keep the best run in program history going, and when you literally have no idea who is going to lead the attack for a team going into the season (sound familiar?), it’s reasonable to wonder if it can all come together.
What happened in 2015? Taylor Louis was outstanding in her redshirt freshman year, and Jenna Rosenthal started doing Jenna Rosenthal Things as a redshirt freshman as well. New transfer Sara Blasier showed why she is now one of the most productive setters in MU history (#7 all time in assists in just two seasons), and after finishing as the #4 seed in the Big East tournament, the Golden Eagles still got an NCAA tournament invite and knocked off Northern Iowa in the first round for the third NCAA win in program history. A highly successful season all around, largely accomplished because Theis knew how to put unproven players into positions to succeed.
Since then, since Theis accomplished something that I wasn’t 100% certain could be accomplished, I’ve been a believer. It’s safe to say at this point that he’s the best coach in program history. The track record speaks for itself at this point, and yeah, it certainly looks like we can just say “expect Marquette to be an NCAA tournament team every year at worst because Ryan Theis is in charge of things.” That applies in particular to this season, where there are so many question marks hanging over the team. Maybe it’s not going to start particularly great with two top 11 teams on the road in the first three matches. But come Thanksgiving, when it’s conference tournament time, heading into the day the NCAA tournament bracket is revealed? I’m pretty sure things are going to be exactly where we’ve come to expect them to be.