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#24 Marquette Volleyball Preview: at #6 Wisconsin & vs High Point

The Golden Eagles have a pair of contests in Madison for Week #2 of the season.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 11 Big Ten Tournament - Michigan State v Wisconsin Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles volleyball goes into the second weekend of their season playing with house money.

They had three matches scheduled against preseason top 25 teams in non-conference action, and two of them were set to show up in the first three matches of the season. One of them was Match #1 of the year against preseason #11 Kentucky. The Golden Eagles had about a bajillion questions to answer about the 2022 campaign heading into the season, so it was going to be hard to take any serious messages away from that match against the Wildcats...... if they lost.

They didn’t, taking the first two sets and then holding on to down Kentucky in their home gym, and now Marquette is #24 in the country for the second week of the season. That’s pretty neat!

Obviously a default setting would be “well, can they follow it up,” but I don’t think that’s important for this weekend. Sure, against High Point on Sunday, that feels like a “must back up the Kentucky win” game, but not on Friday night. It’s a big match in an ever increasingly important in-state rivalry series, but for Marquette’s purposes, it’s still just a road game against a top 10 opponent. You’re not favored to win and you already snagged a top 15 road victory in your opener. A win would be gigantic for Marquette, don’t get me wrong, but a loss? Eh, just a thing that happened, and you move on to the next one.

That #24 ranking might be at risk, but that’s how the cookie crumbles. I think it would be wildly unfair for the AVCA voters to ding the Golden Eagles out of the rankings for losing a road match to the #6 team in the country, but the flip side of that is obviously some (most?) voters don’t even have MU in the top 25 right now anyway.

With that said, and we’ll get to it in a minute, maybe this Wisconsin team isn’t quite ready for prime time, at least relative to what they were at the end of last season and what they might be by the time November rolls around. With the wind in their sails after last week’s Kentucky win, can Marquette push forward and pick up their second win in Madison in the last four seasons? It’s not impossible, that’s for sure.

Match #3: at #6 Wisconsin Badgers (1-1)

Date: Friday, September 2, 2022
Time: 8pm Central
Location: UW Field House, Madison, Wisconsin
Television: Big Ten Network
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 2-21 all time against Wisconsin and 1-15 since Marquette made the move to Division 1 volleyball. With that said, the last time these two teams played in the Field House while the Badgers were ranked in the top ten? That’s the 1 in 1-15.

The Badgers are the reigning champions in Division 1 volleyball. This is particularly relevant because this game is UW’s home opener, and they will be raising their title banner to the rafters before the match. However, this roster is not the roster that won them that title last December. Of the nine women who recorded a point in their 3-2 win over Nebraska in the national championship, only five return this fall, and one of them is setter Izzy Ashburn, who got all four of her points on aces and didn’t record an assist in the match. Even without Dana Rettke, their 6’8” All-American middle, and starting setter Sidney Hilley and libero Lauren Barnes, Wisconsin is still going to be a formidable opponent all season long, because the other four returners are all going to be playing big roles for them. That’s how you end up with that single digit in your top 25 ranking this early in the season.

With that said, this is a lower ranking than their preseason number because they started off the year with a win at TCU and a loss to Baylor in TCU’s building. That’s not a loss to worry about for any real reason. Between taking place in their home state, the Bears usually being a quality team, and the fact that they started the season in the AVCA top 25, you can chalk that up to “yes, well, we played an excellent team and we’re the ones who forced the fifth set by winning #4, so things happen sometimes.” Whether it’s “things happen” or “maybe Wisconsin isn’t super elite like they have been the past few years” or just “the Badgers need some time to gel,” that remains to be seen. It’s not like there’s a shortage of tests for them through the rest of non-conference play, as literally every other match is against a ranked opponent.

Through the first two matches of the season, Sarah Franklin is the top attacker on the roster for Wisconsin. The 6’4” outside hitter transferred in from Michigan State in the offseason, and she’s off to a roaring start. Franklin is at 4.25 digs per set through eight frames, and she’s hitting an absolutely wild .395. That’s not just her accuracy boosting her kill total, as she’s leading the Badgers in attacks, too. Julia Orzol is their #2 option, and she’s averaging 2.63 kills and hitting .321.

Wisconsin’s setting seems to be something of a mess right now with Izzy Ashburn and MJ Hammill apparently splitting time. Ashburn is averaging 5.63 assists a set, which is very good for one half of a pair, but Hammill is only at 3.38. They’re getting assists elsewhere on the roster to average a very good 11.25/set as a team, but I’m unsure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing for defensive specialist Gulce Guctekin to be averaging quite nearly an assist per set.

For the moment, Wisconsin is doing defense as a team. Guctekin is leading in digs at 2.63 per set, which seems low for your libero. Hammill is second ad 2.25, and three more Badgers average more than a dig per frame. Blocking is a team goal as well as evidenced by three women averaging more than 1.3 blocks per frame led by 1.50/set from 6’9” Canadian sophomore Anna Smrek. I do want to point out that Danielle Hart is averaging 3.5 blocks per set officially, but she has played in just two sets this season, one each against TCU and Baylor. The 6’4” middle suffered an ACL injury six matches into last season, including tallying six blocks against the Golden Eagles a year ago. She had been a starter for head coach Kelly Sheffield for the two previous campaigns, so it remains to be seen how much playing time she’ll get as she comes back from that injury. If it’s just spot duty here and there, she has shown that she can make a gigantic impact in limited time.

Match #4: vs High Point Panthers (3-0)

Date: Sunday, September 4, 2022
Time: 6pm Central
Location: UW Field House, Madison, Wisconsin
Streaming: BTN+, at least according to MU. UW and BTN+’s websites disagree on that.
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 1-0 all time against High Point. The lone meeting in program history came in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament, when #14 seed MU picked up a 3-0 win over the Panthers at the McGuire Center.

Massive disclaimer on everything I’m about to say about High Point: Between now and when this match is actually played, High Point is going to play three more matches. They’ll play Furman and Kennesaw State, both on Friday, both at Kennesaw State, before hurrying up to Madison for an afternoon first serve against the Badgers and then turning around and playing Marquette in the evening. It’s entirely possible that everything notable about the Panthers, statistically speaking, is going to change between now and then, and on top of that, who knows what kind of impact 1) the travel and 2) the condensed schedule and 3) merely playing a top 10 team earlier in the day is going to have on them when they face the Golden Eagles.

With that said, High Point/Wisconsin explains why Marquette is going to play this match in Madison as opposed to coming back to Milwaukee for it. I am curious if Ryan Theis is going to have his team bus back and forth, though. Is sleeping in your own bed on Friday and Saturday night and a Sunday morning bus ride smarter than staying in Madison the whole time? It’s definitely cheaper, that’s for sure.

Anyway, the Panthers are 3-0 so far this season after going 24-7 a year ago. They got bounced from the Big South tournament by Campbell in the title game and that was the end of their season. I presume the returning players are slightly annoyed about that as 2022 gets going. They are the unanimous pick to win the Big South this fall after securing the regular season conference title a year ago, which tells you a lot of what to expect from them.

On top of that, they had two players snag preseason individual honors from the Big South. Dylan Maberry is the Preseason Player of the Year, while Maria Miggins is the Preseason Setter of the Year in the league. With that said, Maberry is not the team leader in kills so far this season. She’s doing just fine, great even, through three matches: 3.09 kills/set and hitting .377. It’s just that the offense is going through Sydney Palazzolo for some godforsaken reason. The 6’2” Michigan native is averaging a very awesome 5.00 kills/set.... but she’s hitting just .212 to get there. Palazzolo has taken more than twice as many swings through three matches than Maberry, which is very weird and definitely not how things went a year ago. Maybe this rebalances by the time MU plays the Panthers on Sunday, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

High Point does play two setters, or at least has been to this point of the season. In fact, Ally Van Eekeren, last seen setting for Creighton a year ago, started for the Panthers in place of Miggins once already this season. They’re both averaging north of 5.3 assists a set, so they’re definitely both producing like you’d like to see in a situation like this. Between Maberry not being the focal point of the offense and Miggins not being the starter for all three matches, there’s a lot going on with this roster right now that I’m sure a lot of Big South coaches would like to ask questions about... but for now, we’ll have to wait and see what Sunday brings.

On the defensive side of the ball, Louisville native Jenny Wessling is holding things together at 4.82 digs per set. Palazzolo does a good job there as well, chipping in over three per frame. Gabrielle Idlebird wins the team title for Best Name but also leads the squad in blocks. The 6’0” middle from Texas is the only Panther averaging north of 0.90 blocks per set this season, and she’s waaaaay up there at 1.36. They do have three women who are above 0.70 blocks a frame, so I’m willing to guess that Idlebird has a number of ready, willing, and able partners at the net since all 15 of her blocks this season have gone in the books as assisted.