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#19 Marquette Volleyball Preview: vs Connecticut & vs Providence

The Golden Eagles wrap up their 10 match homestand with a pair of Big East contests.

UConn v South Carolina
UConn on Friday means you avoid having to see Friar Dom in this spot.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When I peeked ahead at the schedule for this weekend, I started wondering what was possible for Marquette volleyball.

The Golden Eagles won their first two Big East matches last weekend to launch themselves into first place in the league out of the gate. On Friday and Saturday, they’ll be playing two of the five teams that started out Big East action 0-2. I think that #19 next to Marquette’s name makes them the favorite in both contests, so it’s reasonable to project the Golden Eagles at 4-0 on Sunday morning.

How close are they to clinching a Big East tournament berth if they do that? Six teams are making the field this year. Last year, 7-11 in Big East action would have been enough to get in. It is legitimately possible and even likely and probable that the Golden Eagles will be more than halfway there after this weekend. That’s wild! If the 0-2 teams keep tumbling (and by default, not all five can, DePaul is 0-2 and plays the same opponents as Marquette this weekend for example), that’s just going to keep opening up the gap between Marquette and that bottom five in the conference.

How long before they lock up a top six spot? Is it before Halloween? With 12 Big East matches scheduled before the end of October, including a visit to Creighton, that certainly looks likely, right? Would the first spot in the conference tournament be on the line when Marquette visits Omaha to face the Bluejays on October 14th?

Am I getting way too far over my skis here? Is Ryan Theis quietly shaking his fist at me for looking ahead instead of focusing on the matches immediately in front of the Golden Eagles? One thing at a time. Let’s reconvene next week and see where things are.

Big East Match #3: vs Connecticut Huskies (6-7, 0-2 Big East)

Date: Friday, September 30, 2022
Time: 7pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: MUTV on YouTube, with Jackson Gross, Ben Schultz, and Ava Mares on the call.
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

FUN FACT: All students in attendance will get a Marquette Homecoming shirt, available in both short and long sleeve versions.

Marquette is 9-3 all time against Connecticut. The Golden Eagles have won the last six meetings in the series to break a tie. Before MU beat the Huskies 3-0 in the Big East semifinals last year, the previous five meetings had all finished with a score of 3-1.

Well, it’s reasonable to ask how much UConn misses having now-MU assistant coach Abby Gilleland on the sideline. After posting a program record 13 conference wins a year ago, the Huskies are just 6-7 so far this season and have started off Big East play 0-2 with road losses, both in five sets, to Seton Hall and St. John’s. Part of the 6-5 record in non-conference action is just Connecticut sticking their hand into a wheat thresher. They have taken 3-0 losses to teams ranked #12, #20, and #12 at the time of the match, and one of those squads — San Diego, not Penn State, believe it or not — is currently ranked #4 in the country. See, so they’re 6-2 in non-conference play without those ranked foe battles, and they just got caught against the Johnnies and the Pirates in five sets. Maybe it’s not all bad.

Caylee Parker, an all-Big East performer a year ago, is up to her usual tricks. She’s converting 3.06 swings to kills per set this season to lead the UConn offense, but she’s wildly inefficient with a hitting percentage of just .205. Jasmine Davis is actually leading the Huskies in total swings, somewhat due to Parker taking one set off at some point this season, but Davis is hitting a very not okay .163. 2.86 kills is good, but that hitting percentage is just not good enough for someone with over a quarter of the team’s total attacks. As a team, UConn is hitting just .210, but Madi Whitmire is still getting 9.28 assists per set out of them, so that’s pretty good.

While senior libero Karly Berkland is doing the heavy lifting at 4.02 digs per frame so far this season, UConn’s stars are helping her out. Parker, Davis, and Whitmire are all averaging north of two digs a set as well. If we’re being honest about it, those digs are artificially limiting Whitmire’s assists total. Can’t make the pass on the second touch if you’re coming up with the first touch, y’know?

Continuing on the defensive end of things, Marquette is going to have to be aware of Kennadie Jake-Turner and Taylor Pannell at all times. The pair of middles are driving UConn’s 2.36 blocks to the best mark in the Big East. Turner is just north of a block per set, while Pannell is hovering at 0.90 at this point of the season.

Big East Match #4: vs Providence Friars (8-6, 0-2 Big East)

Date: Saturday, October 1, 2022
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloSports, with Bob Brainerd on the call
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

FUN FACT: Fans are encouraged to wear pink for breast cancer awareness.

Marquette is a perfect 15-0 all time against Providence. In fact, since this series started in 1999 and then resumed in 2014 when the Friars started playing volleyball in the Big East, Marquette is 45-2 in sets against Providence, and both of the two losses were in the first ever meeting.

I wish the NCAA had the RPI up and running at this point of the season. They don’t, so it’s making it a little bit hard for me to make a point about the Friars and their record to this point of the year. At a glance, it’s not looking so hot relative to schedule strength. UConn challenged themselves and whiffed. It happens. Providence has beaten Holy Cross twice in two different events, once at Iona and once at home. The Crusaders are 2-13. This is my point.

Providence comes into this weekend with losses in four of their last five contests, including that 0-2 start to Big East play. They got swept by St. John’s and fell in five to Seton Hall the next night last weekend. That might turn into a 0-3 start to conference action, as they’ll be in Chicago to face DePaul on Friday night before coming up to Milwaukee the next night.

The Friars are only hitting .191 as a team, so it’s not terribly surprising that everyone averaging north of two kills a set is hitting under .200 right now. Emma Nelson, a 6’1” senior, is leading the squad with 2.73 kills, but we are left wondering where PC would be if Jennifer Leitman, a senior from California, hadn’t only played in the first two matches of the year and then not at all again since. She averaged 2.83 kills in her six sets, and having another reliable attacker would, in theory, open things up for PC’s other hitters. It would be interesting if Providence could get more swings for Kayla Grant, as the middle from Texas is averaging 1.98 kills while currently operating as the most accurate attacker in the Big East with a hitting percentage of .386. That’s just barely in front of MU’s Carsen Murray to give you a picture of what we’re talking about here.

Mackenzie Taylor holds together Providence’s back line at 5.04 digs per set. She’s one of just three liberos in the Big East averaging north of five a frame, and Marquette already faced DePaul’s Rachel Krasowski last week. Grant and Sasha Rudich make a pretty solid blocking tandem for Providence. They’re not going to knock your socks off, but 0.84 and 0.85 blocks per set respectively is pretty good. It’s good enough to get Providence to the second best hitting percentage defense in the conference right now, although it remains to be seen what happens to that number as their schedule gets a lot tougher going forward.