2023 has not gone anywhere close to the way Marquette volleyball head coach Ryan Theis would have wanted it to go, much less anywhere close to where he had hoped it would go.
That’s what happens when you set up a non-conference schedule that gives you seven matches against teams that were ranked at the time and your team loses all seven of them. It’s not what you want.
However, after all of that, after going 4-7 in non-conference play, the Golden Eagles have started out Big East play 4-0 and have pushed themselves back above .500 — They’re currently 8-7 — for the first time since the sun set on the month of August.
Even better for Marquette: They find themselves alone in first place in the Big East after two weeks of action. Part of that is MU handling their business to go 4-0, but part of that is also everyone else, including current AVCA poll entry #15 Creighton, dropping a match in the first four. We were expecting a joust all season long for the top spot in the conference, but the Golden Eagles have unexpectedly been dealt some luck early on in the process. They now control their destiny in the league, because they still have two matches to be played against three of the teams currently tied for second in the Big East and one match — thanks to the 18 game league schedule — with the fourth team.
That brings us around to this week’s action, where Marquette will face two of those four teams that sit one game behind them in the standings. Even after all of the tribulations of the non-conference slate, Marquette can put themselves into a fantastic position in terms of a third straight Big East title with wins on Wednesday and Friday. That’s a terrific opportunity, and it gets even better since Friday’s foe — the Creighton team that has shared each of the past two regular season titles with Marquette — currently sits at #15 in the AVCA top 25 and #17 in the NCAA’s RPI calculations. If the Golden Eagles can do what they did last year and beat the Bluejays in the McGuire Center, it will be MU’s best RPI win of the year so far, narrowly beating out their road win over a Dayton team that has lurched up to #18 in the country now.
One match at a time. One set at a time. One point at a time. Take care of business as it comes to you, and see where things take you.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Yes, that is an 11am Central start on Wednesday. The Golden Eagles are doing a Field Trip Day, so there will be bunches of local school kids in the McGuire Center.
Big East Match #5: vs DePaul Blue Demons (10-5, 3-1 Big East)
Marquette is 37-29 all time against DePaul, but that’s a little misleading. MU went 2-4 against the Blue Demons before officially becoming a Division 1 program in 1986. So it’s 35-25 in Division 1 since 1986, and even that’s misleading. Marquette is currently on a 24 match winning streak against DePaul dating all the way back to the 2009 season after winning in five sets in Chicago in the most recent encounter.
DePaul comes into this quick jaunt north on I-94 with three straight wins and victories in five of their last six matches. That extends back to winning eight of their last 10, which is a pretty solid run. The only slip up in their last six outings was their Big East opener, as they lost in straight sets to Georgetown. Yes, the same Georgetown that Marquette beat 3-0 just one day later, the one that the Golden Eagles held to just .083 hitting for the entire match. That loss to Georgetown is the only thing stopping this Wednesday morning contest from deciding sole control of first place in the conference. Instead, the Blue Demons will merely have to settle for attempting to create a tie atop the standings.
As expected by this observer, Jill Pressly is leading the DePaul offense. She’s averaging 4.50 kills per set and just short of five points per frame, both of which give her a healthy lead over #2 option Audrey Klemp. Pressly is hitting just .211 on the year, while Klemp is at only .223. DePaul’s hitting efficiency just gets more troubling if we keep reading down the stat sheet, which is not great for them but pretty good news for the Golden Eagles if their blocking game comes to play.
It appears that DePaul had been using a setter rotation with both Ashley Cudiamat and Maggie Jones averaging between 6.0 and 7.5 assists per set. However, Jones hasn’t played at all since Big East action started and Cudiamat is averaging just short of 11 assists per frame in that time. Things can change, of course, but for the time being, it seems like the safe bet is to presume Cudiamat will go the distance against the Golden Eagles.
Rachel Krasowski is averaging 5.23 digs per set to this point of the year, and she’s up to 5.94 against Big East teams. I’m not saying that she’s playing with some sort of ball magnet under the sleeves of her jersey, but I am saying that we should probably investigate whether or not that technology is possible. Meghan Scholz and Katelynn Oxley provide a formidable blocking tandem for the Blue Demons, but both women have missed time at points already this year, up to and including Oxley only playing seven sets in conference action. They’re both averaging over a block per set overall in 2023, but only Oxley and her limited playing time has maintained that average against Big East squads. Scholz is down to just 0.75 blocks/set, a far cry from her season average of 1.17 per stanza.
Big East Match #6: vs #15 Creighton Bluejays (12-3, 3-1 Big East)
Marquette is 6-26 all time against Creighton. The Golden Eagles have lost 13 of the last 15 matches against the Bluejays at this point, but they did win in Milwaukee in last year’s regular season finale to clinch a share of the Big East championship before falling in five sets in Omaha in the conference tournament title game.
Inescapable facts about the 2023 Creighton volleyball season:
- The Bluejays went 5-1 to start the season, including going into Holloway Gym in West Lafayette and handing then-#16 Purdue their first home non-conference loss since 2016 and their first non-conference home sweep defeat since 2007.
- 2022 Big East Player of the Year and 2023 Big East Preseason Player of the Year Norah Sis suffered an abdominal injury and has not played since the first six matches of the year.
- Creighton won seven of their next eight matches without Sis, including going up to the Twin Cities and beating then-#9 Minnesota to close out non-conference play. The loss in there was on the road against then-#4 Nebraska, so just chalk that up to the cost of doing business.
- After a 3-0 sweep at Butler to start Big East play, Creighton lost a non-conference match to someone not named Marquette for the first time since October 16, 2021, falling in five sets to Xavier.
- The Bluejays hit just .216 against the Musketeers, including a flat .000 in the fifth set after XU had won the fourth to send them there.
- Creighton got back on the horse last weekend with home sweeps of St. John’s and Seton Hall.
In short: Creighton is Creighton, with or without Norah Sis. Yes, they lost to Xavier. They also beat a great Minnesota team. This Marquette team, which is almost nearly the exact same Marquette team that beat Creighton in last year’s regular season finale, couldn’t beat a top 10 team in three tries this season, all at home, two in the more intimate setting of the McGuire Center. If they have Sis and her 4.13 kills per set, then they’ll be extremely good. If they don’t, and Ava Martin’s 4.04 kills/set lead the way, then the Bluejays are merely very good.
Kendra Wait handles the setting duties to the tune of 10.00 assists per set, but that’s down to just 8.64 in Big East matches. Part of that might be because it looks like Xavier was targeting her during their match and got her to commit to 26 digs, which is more than five per set. That’s five balls per set that she wasn’t making the second touch on and thus passing to the hitters, and five digs would be a lot of digs for a libero much less for the setter. I think it’s a safe bet that MU head coach Ryan Theis has noticed this idea.
Kiana Schmitt leads the Bluejays defense at the net with 1.02 blocks per set, and she has a solid supporting cast in that department, too. Both Wait and Ann Mare Remmes are north of 0.80 blocks per set, so Schmitt has no shortage of friendly faces to partner up with on rejections.