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#23 Marquette Volleyball Preview: vs LSU & vs Milwaukee

The Golden Eagles continue their 10 match homestand with a pair of weekend contests.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

One of the big questions coming into the season for Marquette volleyball was, effectively, “What even is this team?” With just one 100% healthy returning outside hitter and a giant pack of major contributor seniors gone plus two new assistant coaches, it was reasonable to wonder how head coach Ryan Theis was going to pull it all together. Maybe more important than that, the question of how fast he was going to be able to pull it all together was looming over the team, and the answer was likely going to dictate how the season went.

We got an answer on how and how fast right out of the gate as Marquette came away from their opener with a five set thriller victory over then-#11 Kentucky. Since then, MU’s only misstep was a four set loss on the road against Wisconsin, and that one was probably a bit closer than the set scores make it look. A record of 4-1 at the five match mark is really a best case scenario based on what was scheduled, so things are running incredibly smoothly.

And yet.....

It seems that Theis and his staff are still evolving what the 2022 squad is. Look no further than how the Golden Eagles went about defeating Loyola-Chicago on Tuesday night. There’s a lot of expected production here: Aubrey Hamilton led the team in attacks, Ella Foti had a highly effective night, MU got kill contributions from both their starting middles as well as starting setter Yadhira Anchante. Great stuff.


Marquette won, to a certain extent, because freshman Ella Holmstrom went OFF against the Ramblers. She had a team high 17 kills, falling just one short of LUC’s Emily Banitt for match-high honors, and she hit .294 on 34 swings, the second best total on the team behind Hamilton.

How is this an evolution of the team just five matches in? Through MU’s first four matches of the season, Holmstrom had played in just 10 of the 16 sets and had taken just 10 total swings at the net. Her kill total on the season before popping off for 17 on Tuesday? FOUR, one in each match.

If that was the gameplan coming in, that’s impressive by Theis et. al. If that was the coaching staff realizing on the fly that Holmstrom was wrecking the Ramblers and running with their largely unproven freshman from Illinois? Thor help me, that’s amazing coaching, the kind of coaching you only see happen from a guy who is completely bulletproof because he’s the best coach in program history.

What’s next? Man, it could be anything. Anastasija Svetnik was dressed for I believe the first time this season on Tuesday night, so maybe she can make an impact. Hannah Vanden Berg is still working her way back from her season ending knee injury last fall, so at some point, she’s going to be able to chip in to the rotation. The point of the story is that this is the #23 team in the country holding one of the best wins of the year by any team in the country already, and it’s very possible that they’re not even a finished product yet.

IMPORTANT PROGRAMMING NOTE: Saturday’s contest is MU’s Mental Health Awareness Match. It’s a partnership with MU alum Jenny Fischer and her Keep Showing Up campaign. The idea is to raise awareness of suicide prevention and mental health in general. Keep Showing Up shirts will be available for sale at the match, and donations will be made to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Besides this being a very good idea, it is National Suicide Prevention Week and specifically, Saturday is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Match #6: vs LSU Tigers (3-3)

Date: Saturday, September 10, 2022
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloSports, with Bob Brainerd and Michelle Griffin-Wenzel on the call
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is 1-1 all time against LSU. The first meeting was in 2006 and a #15 ranked Tigers team took a 3-0 win. The other contest was in 2018 when the Golden Eagles hosted the Tigers in the second match of the season and swept them. This will be the first time that either team has actually played host on campus for a match between the two.

LSU was picked to finish eighth out of 13 teams in the SEC this season. Marquette has already seen what “picked to win the SEC” looks like as they beat Kentucky in the first match of the season, so that should give us some kind of reference point on the Tigers. With that in mind, their losses so far this year are mostly explainable. So you lost in three at home to noted national power Penn State. Such is life. Falling in five sets to a Rice squad that’s just outside the top 25 at the moment? Eh, big deal. Losing to Houston, who was picked to finish 2nd in the AAC? Not great, maybe, but that’s what happens.

The thing to remember about all of this is that LSU played all of these matches at home. Saturday won’t be their first venture out of Baton Rouge as they visit Milwaukee over on the East Side of town on Friday, but this weekend is their first time experiencing a road trip of any kind. If Marquette fans turn out to support the squad like they did against Loyola on Tuesday? Hooooboy, that could be a rough outing for the Tigers.

Sanaa Dotson is leading LSU’s offense right now. She’s hitting a perfectly acceptable .279 through six matches and averaging four kills a set. No one else is north of 2.6, although the Tigers have three women between 2.4 and 2.6 kills a frame. However, one of them is Paige Flickinger, and she has already missed three matches this season, including last Saturday’s date with Penn State. Seems like maybe she won’t be available if she’s been in and out of the lineup.

LSU’s setting situation is weird at the moment. Neither Josie Vondran nor Maddie Waak have played in every set, although Vondran has started in five matches and played in all six. Vondran is averaging 8.12 assists per set, while Waak is at an even 7.0/set with 13 sets played. Waak played in all three sets against Penn State and Vondran only appeared in one set, and so I have no idea what to expect for their rotation against Marquette.

Match #7: vs Milwaukee Panthers (1-5)

Date: Sunday, September 11, 2022
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloSports, with Matt Menzl on the call
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB

Marquette is, somehow, 33-46-1 all time against Milwaukee. The series dates all the way back to 1975, the first ever year of competitive volleyball at Marquette. 41 of those 80 matches happened before Marquette made the move to Division 1 in 1986, and since then the series stands at 20-16 in MU’s favor. Marquette has won the last 11 meetings with UWM’s most recent victory coming back in 2007, and the Golden Eagles have won the last six encounters by way of a 3-0 sweep dating back to 2012. The most recent meeting was in 2017.

Part of Milwaukee’s awful record to start the season is that they played two teams that were receiving votes at the time and another that was ranked in the top 15 of the AVCA poll. They took three sets off those three opponents, two from Utah while rallying from down 2-0 and another from #11 Purdue to force a fourth set in the Boilermakers’ home gym. That’s not too bad, not for a team that only has one win this season. That lone win came down in West Lafayette as they beat Bradley 3-1.

All of this is preamble to the point of 1-5 doesn’t tell the full story. Milwaukee is picked to finish second in the Horizon League this season. They grabbed four of the first place votes and fell just three points short of preseason favorite Northern Kentucky. 1-5 start or not, it wouldn’t be completely crazy to see the Panthers in the NCAA tournament when December rolls around. They’re coming off a 22-9 season with a 16-2 record in HL play, but lost their shot at the NCAAs by way of a semifinal loss to #3 seed Illinois-Chicago.

As for what the team actually looks like, Madi Malone leads in kills at 3.25/set and tops the team in total attacks through six matches. She’s hitting .222 at the moment, so there’s a certain amount of “Milwaukee’s played a pretty tough schedule so far, and that can’t be helping” to her numbers. Ari Miller and Natalie Schmitz are both north of two kills a frame and Miller is hitting a very respectable .284.

Kaley Blake and Josie Johnson are splitting time at setter with Blake holding the advantage at the moment with 5.29 assists per set. Johnson’s just over four a game, which probably means they’re splitting time pretty evenly. UWM’s digs situation is led by Sarah Schrader, but she’s only at 3.83/set, so the whole team gets involved. Milwaukee doesn’t have a strong blocking presence, at least statistically speaking, or at least they don’t have a dominant leader. Bri Geurts shares the team lead in blocks at 0.88/set with Ari Miller, and Czhen Beneby is right behind them at 0.79/set. That’s a pretty good 1-2-3, so maybe that can make up for not having a singular player holding it together at the net.