The hardest part of Marquette’s season is over.
No disrespect intended to anyone else on Marquette’s schedule this fall, but the Golden Eagles started out the year with two preseason top 15 teams in their first three matches of the season. That’s not going to happen in any other three match stretch this year, partly because of how the schedule shakes out, and also partly because Marquette just isn’t going to be playing any other preseason top 15 teams between now and Thanksgiving.
We know Marquette is good enough to beat #11 Kentucky in their building. We know Marquette is good enough to make #6 Wisconsin shake in their boots, at least ever so slightly, before falling in four sets.
That’s good news! If those things hold for the whole season or maybe improve as the season goes along, it seems likely that MU’s ranking in the AVCA poll will continue to go up as long as they keep winning. There are tests looming out there — hello Illinois at home in two weeks; don’t think we forgot about you, Creighton — but for the most part, the rest of the season will be “take care of your business” for the Golden Eagles.
If there’s a reason to believe that Marquette is prepared to really start building on what they’ve established in their first few matches, then the upcoming schedule reinforces the beneficial path in front of them. The next 10 matches — yep, 10, six non-conference battles and the first four Big East clashes of the year as well — will all be at the McGuire Center. Not even so much as a trip across town to visit Milwaukee on the board for them, as the Panthers are in that list of 10 opponents. This is a seemingly perfect pathway for Marquette to move their record to 13-1 on the season, as long as they take care of business.
There is also the health of the team to consider here. We knew Hannah Vanden Berg was unlikely to be playing for the first few matches of the season. She has averaged just a bit over two kills per set in three seasons of action with the Golden Eagles, and when she gets back to 100% from her knee injury, HVB will give MU’s offense another facet to work with. That’s objectively great news, since Marquette is currently succeeding with Ella Foti stepping in to take swings even though she was recruited as and is listed as a setter on the roster. Same thing goes for Anastasija Svetnik, who hasn’t played this season. She had a big finish on the 2021 season, but hasn’t been dressed to play in any of the Golden Eagles matches so far this fall. Getting another skilled middle blocker into the mix, particularly one who showed she can be relied on for some offense, can’t be a bad thing for Marquette, so we’ll keep our eyes peeled to see when she’s able to get going.
Match #5: vs Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (3-3)
Date: Tuesday, September 6, 2022
Time: 7pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloSports with Scott Sudikoff calling the action
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
Marquette is 11-14 all time against Loyola-Chicago. The two teams have met twice since MU’s run in the NCAA tournament has started, and both are 3-0 Marquette victories. The Golden Eagles have won four straight in this series, dating back to 2006, and have dropped just one set to the Ramblers in that time.
Here’s the difference in Loyola’s season so far: Playing a Major Seven Conference opponent means they lose. Bowling Green, Morehead State, and Toledo? A combined set record of 9-2 across three matches, a perfect 3-0 in Matches. At Tennesseee, then-#13 Purdue, and at Michigan? 0-3 in matches, 4-9 in sets thanks to pushing both Tennessee and Michigan to five sets in their home buildings.
Don’t take this to mean that Loyola is going to be a pushover for Marquette. The Ramblers won the Missouri Valley Conference a year ago with a record of 14-4. This year, they’re in the Atlantic 10, as is their entire athletic department, and they’re picked to finish third in their new league. That’s behind Dayton, the preseason favorite, and VCU, who picked up two first place votes in the A-10’s preseason poll.
As far as that 2021 team goes, the most notable thing to know is that Loyola returns a pair of All-MVC First Teamers for this season. Addie Barnes is a 5’11” outside hitter who will probably have some friends and family coming down from Neenah to watch her play, while Taylor Venuto is a 6’1” middle hitter from Michigan. Through 24 sets of this season, Barnes is leading the Ramblers in kills at 3.00 per set, but she’s only hitting .191. Venuto is doing much better, connecting on 39% of her swings for points to the tune of 2.00 kills/set.
Kelsey Watson is leading Loyola in blocks this season at 1.25 per frame, but she didn’t play at all for the Ramblers this past weekend. If the 6’1” Missouri native middle hitter isn’t available again, that could mean a long day at the office for Loyola. With that said, Venuto is stuffing 1.17 attacks for a point per set this season, and three of her 28 blocks have been of the solo variety. Barnes is not far behind at 0.88 blocks per set so far this fall.