We started the 2022 Marquette volleyball season with a lot of questions about what was going to happen. Whether they were big questions about the end of season results or small questions about literally who was going to start for the Golden Eagles in the first match of the season, there were a lot of them.
Now there’s just one question, one popularized by Bill Goldberg in the late 1990s: WHO’S NEXT?
Powered by 18 kills by Aubrey Hamilton in her Marquette debut, Marquette took a 2-0 lead on #11 Kentucky in UK’s barn in Lexington, weathered a rally by the five-time defending SEC champs and 2020 national champions to tie the match at two sets each, and then hit .400 exactly in the fifth frame to get the 15-12 set win and wrap up the 3-2 victory over the Wildcats. Marquette moves to 1-0 on the season, and their ranking in the AVCA top 25 on Monday afternoon is now merely a formality.
For a minute there, it almost looked like Marquette winning the match was a formality. The Golden Eagles hit over .300 in both of the first two sets and held Kentucky to just .152 in the first set while leading almost the entire way and then .286 in the second. Two errors by Marquette allowed Kentucky to tie the first set up at 18 points each, and it was tied again at 19. Consecutive errors by the Wildcats triggered a 4-0 run by MU which turned into a 6-2 burst to tend the set at 25-21.
The second set, while Marquette had that hitting advantage, was much closer to going the other way. UK took a 16-12 lead as the Golden Eagles couldn’t get their act together for a minute, leaving MU to have to chase after them. Three straight Kentucky errors flipped the thing from 19-18 Kentucky to 22-20 Marquette. Kentucky tied it at 22 on an error by MU’s Jenna Reitsma, but she made up for it by giving her team their 24th point of the set and Ella Foti dropped home the winner.
At this point, we should really sidebar to discuss Foti. She joined Marquette in January of 2021 after finishing high school early and then didn’t play in that spring season. She missed the 2021 fall season due to injury, so today’s match was her Marquette debut. What did she do in her first ever action? She started, played in all five sets, took 26 swings and recorded 12 kills to finish second on the team behind Hamilton and hit .346 to do it. Why is this particularly impressive? Foti is listed on the Marquette roster as a setter. MU’s current lack of depth at hitter due to Hannah Vanden berg’s current injury recovery opened the door to Foti finding some playing time, and she clearly made the most of it.
That takes us over to sets #3 and #4, which effectively was just 84 points of Marquette fans everywhere going “ohhhhhhhhhh nooooooooooo.” MU still hit over .350 in the third…. But let Kentucky hit .559 to win 25-18, and win pretty easily, too. Things went even easier for the home team in the fourth set as they won 25-16. This is a situation where Marquette absolutely could and should have closed the match out, though. Kentucky hit just .143 in the set, so it was very clearly there for the taking since MU’s defense was making that happen. The offense? .031 as a hitting percentage on 32 swings just isn’t getting it done against the #11 team in the country.
And so, things headed to a fifth set, which remains the craziest set of rules in college sports. “Hey, you just watched 180-ish points of awesome neck-and-neck volleyball, first to 15 wins.” That’s fine for an actual tiebreaker situation, but for what is supposed to be part of the scheduled flow of the game if needed? Crap. Absolute crap.
The fifth set turned in Marquette’s favor on a 5-0 run in what amounts to the middle of the set. Elise Goetzinger had put the Wildcats up 5-4 after MU had opened it up 2-0 to start. Yadhira Anchante dumped a kill onto UK to start oft the run that had kills from Foti and Carsen Murray as well as a pair of errors from UK’s Reagan Rutherford. All of a sudden, it’s 9-5 Marquette and essentially, they just need to not screw it up.
Kentucky got within one. 12-11 when Reitsma got blocked, and then 13-12 when Adanna Rollins laid down one of her 28 kills on the night. ASIDE: Marquette let the Penn State transfer hit .473 on 55 attacks, which is a big ol’ WELP.
But: Hattie Bray, making her Marquette debut after redshirting last fall, recorded her sixth kill of the night.
And then Hamilton, of course, getting the winner.
And that’s Ryan Theis pulling off yet another stunner of a ranked team in non-conference play to remind everyone that Marquette is actually very good at this whole volleyball thing. All those question marks hanging in the air to start the year, and it it once again very clear that this is the Best Team On Campus, and it’s going to take one hell of an effort from someone to take that title from them.
Up Next: No rest for the conquerors. Well, a little rest. Tomorrow, about 17 hours after I’m typing this, Marquette will be back out on the floor at Memorial Coliseum to face Ohio University. It will be the first match of the season for the Bobcats, so they’ll clearly have the fresh legs.