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RV Marquette Volleyball Preview: at #11 Kentucky & vs Ohio

The Golden Eagles start off the year in a big way with a trip to the Commonwealth for a pair of matches.

The Kentucky Wildcats mascot Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The biggest thing to know about the opening weekend of Marquette volleyball in 2022 is the speed at which we are going to learn things about how the season is going to go.

By the time the first set of the season ends, which should be sometime in the 6 o’clock hour on Friday evening, we’re going to have learned so many things about Marquette’s season. Heck, just the announcement of the starting lineup that head coach Ryan Theis is going to use is going to tell us many things. Right now, the only two players I feel 100% comfortable saying will be one of the starting six plus libero for the Golden Eagles are middle blocker Carsen Murray and libero Carly Skrabak. The other five spots in the lineup could go to almost anyone and I wouldn’t be surprised.

I’m pretty sure Yadhira Anchante is going to start at setter because that’s what you do when you bring in a two-time JUCO National Player of the Year. I’m pretty sure Jenna Reitsma is going to start at outside hitter, because she’s the only 100% healthy returning outside hitter on the roster. I’m pretty sure Aubrey Hamilton will start at outside hitter because when you get a Power Six program’s leading attacker to transfer in, that’s what you do. But I’m not 100% sure that’s what’s going to happen for any of those three..... and that still leaves two more positions in the starting lineup to fill. An extra defensive specialist, particularly against the #11 team in the country? A second middle blocker, and if so, is it Claire Nuessmeier or Anastasija Svetnik? Does Svetnik pivot to hitter, opening up playing time for redshirt freshman Hattie Bray?

As the first set goes along, we’re going to find out whether or not Marquette is going to stick with a two-setter rotation that they’ve used to great success the past few seasons. Presuming Anchante as the starter, it seems like MU’s best move is to keep her on the floor as much as possible.... but maybe that’s not the best tactical move? Can Ella Foti or Caroline Dragani give the Golden Eagles what they need as a secondary setter? Are one of them going to beat out Anchante as the starter? How much does Theis turning over both of his assistant coaches in the offseason play into all of this? Specifically when it comes to setting, how much does hiring Abby Gilleland, Theis’ former setter at Ohio and the UConn assistant who coached up last year’s Big East Setter of the Year, affect the decision making?

With all of those question marks involved, how much does the result on Friday night matter against merely the process of shaking out the bugs in the system against a live opponent that counts in the record for the year? Should we take a contest against a top 15 opponent as merely a test flight and take Saturday’s contest much more seriously as an actual test of what Marquette is this season?

And if that’s the case..... what happens if Theis has enough magic in his bag to figure out how to upset the #11 team in the country on their floor to start the season?

Match #1: at #11 Kentucky Wildcats (0-0)

Date: Friday, August 26, 2022
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Kentucky
Streaming: SEC Network+, with Dick Gabriel and AVCA Executive Director Kathy DeBoer calling the action
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 2-3 all time against Kentucky. The most recent meeting was a 3-0 competitive sweep by the Wildcats at the McGuire Center just last season. The series dates back to 2000, and the Wildcats are on a two match winning streak against MU.

UK is coming off a 25-5 season a year ago, including a 17-1 record in SEC play. They earned a #7 seed in the NCAA tournament thanks to that record, but got bounced from the tournament in the next round. Illinois dropped them on their home court, 3-1, to advance to the Sweet 16 and probably leave a sour taste in Kentucky’s mouth on how that entire season went.

Kentucky starts off the year as the preseason favorite to win the SEC, which you probably guessed from that #11 in front of their name. They are the five time defending SEC champs at the moment, and yet somehow they are not the unanimous favorite in the league with Florida getting two first place votes and Tennessee getting one. That’s weird.

There are a total of 15 women on the preseason all-SEC team, and four of them — that’s more than 25%! — are Wildcats. Interestingly, they represent Kentucky all over the floor. Libero Eleanor Beavin, setter Emma Grome, middle blocker Azhani Tealer, and “opposite” Reagan Rutherford are the four that give the Wildcats a nice mix of stellar talent across the board. I’m not 100% sure about the lingo on Rutherford’s position name, but effectively, she’s Kentucky’s best returning outside hitter. The Wildcats are without their best two attackers from last season, and officially, Tealer is the returning kills leader at 2.61/set a year ago. But she’s a middle blocker, and so that makes Rutherford UK’s most likely primary option to start this campaign.

Match #2: vs Ohio Bobcats (0-0)

Date: Friday, August 26, 2022
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Kentucky
Streaming: ESPN+, or at least that’s what MU’s schedule page says
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast, probably
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 1-2 all time against Ohio. The first meeting was a 3-0 Bobcats win in 1996 in an event hosted by Northwestern, while the most recent encounter was a 3-0 Marquette win in an event hosted by Illinois State last season.

Ohio is coming off a 12-19 season a year ago, but they did go 11-7 in MAC action. Their season ended with a 3-1 loss to Bowling Green in the MAC semifinals. That was Year #1 under the direction of Geoff Carlston, who took over the program following the retirement of Deane Webb, the guy who replaced Ryan Theis when he took the Marquette job, in the summer of 2020. FUN FACT: Webb retired two weeks before the NCAA vacated three of his seasons because Ohio paid for the airfare of the parents of eight recruits to attend official visits. I’m just going to say it: Telling parents that they’re on their own for traveling on official visits is an incredibly stupid rule, NCAA.

ANYWAY, 2021 was just the second sub-.500 season for Ohio since Theis left following the 2013 campaign. However, the Bobcats have been hovering right around that .500 mark after Webb won 23 and 25 matches in his first two seasons in charge. Ohio is picked to finish second in the MAC’s East Division this season, but they didn’t actually get a first place vote. 11 of those went to Bowling Green, while third place Kent State got the other one.

The Bobcats do have two women on the preseason all-MAC team, so that’s pretty good. Outside hitter Caroline Clippard is one, while libero Sam Steele is the other. Clippard was Ohio’s top attacker last year, leading the squad in total attacks as well as topping the charts at 3.28 kills/set. However, she did hit just .196 in her first season of collegiate action, so we’ll see if Marquette can make her inefficient once again. Steele was the anchor of Ohio’s defense last season, averaging 5.32 digs per set while no one else cleared three per frame. I don’t know how possible it is, but aiming attacks away from Steele is probably the right move.