Going into the weekend, Marquette volleyball needed two wins to clinch at least a share of the 2023 Big East regular season title. Both the Golden Eagles and the Creighton Bluejays held a record of 14-2, and no matter what the Jays did, two wins would give Marquette a third straight regular season title.
They got those wins, sweeping both St. John’s and Seton Hall on Friday and Saturday night respectively to move to 20-9 overall on the year, but boy, did they get those wins in WILDLY different ways.
On Friday, it was a game of runs with the Red Storm. Marquette snapped off nine straight points in the early going to take an 11-5 lead on St. John’s, but the visiting Johnnies scored six straight to tie the set at 11.... and then Marquette answered that with four straight points. Three more in a row for SJU settled the thing into a back-and-forth contest. Holding a narrow one point advantage, Marquette got a big back row kill from Aubrey Hamilton for a sideout, and on the rotation, Hamilton tallied again from the left pin and lock up the 25-22 win.
Set #2 was just more of the later stage of the first set. Back and forth and back and forth and no one has a real advantage and SJU scores two straight to take a 17-16 lead on an ace by Ludovica Zola. And then Marquette said no, we’re not having this. The Golden Eagles closed out the second frame with NINE CONSECUTIVE POINTS. They were helped by St. John’s, to be clear, as the Johnnies chipped in three attacks that went out of bounds and a double contact on Wiktoria Kowalczyk, but that was a big time run in a big time spot for Marquette.
The Golden Eagles nudged out in front early in the third set, going up 8-4 and 11-6 — St. John’s called their second timeout of the set at 10-6, by the way — and 14-7 and then 16-8 on a solo block by Aubrey Hamilton. Started to feel like the door was closing... and then the Red Storm halved the lead. Timeout Marquette. The SJU run extended to eight straight, tying the match at 16 and we were right back where most of the second set and the back part of the first set were at. Close, and no one could really establish an edge. St. John’s went up 21-19, running on a 13-3 run, and that’s when Ryan Theis called his final timeout of the set. I don’t know what he said, but based on what happened, it may as well have been “do you want to play like Big East champions or not?” Five straight from the Golden Eagles, including an ace from libero Sarah Kushner, and then after Eleonora Tosi snapped the run, Anastasija Svetnik and Hattie Bray stuffed Lucrezia Lodi for the 25th point and a 6-1 run to close out the match.
Exactly the kind of outing that you’d expect from a team tied for first and the team in third place behind that tie, especially when it went the other way in the first meeting.
On Saturday, things went differently. Remember that theoretical timeout speech I assigned to Ryan Theis? That might have been his pregame speech before MU tangled with a Seton Hall squad that got swept by DePaul on Friday night and needed a win against the Golden Eagles to qualify for the six team conference tournament.
It didn’t start that way, with Marquette going up 5-3 and Seton Hall getting the next two to tie it. That’s how the start of a match goes sometimes, it’s hard to build an early lead.
Well, it’s usually hard to build an early lead.
Marquette scored the next 11 points and 14 of the next 15. 18 of the next 22. 20 of the next 23. 25-8 was the final in the first set.
8-2 Marquette to start the second. 12-3. 19-5. 25-11, and that’s only because Seton Hall fended off three set points. 45-14 since the 5-5 tie.
4-0 to start the third. 13-6. 19-8. 22-9. Marquette was just mowing through the Pirates. Ryan Theis went deep into his bench, and did that stop the Golden Eagles from getting out of the match with less than 10 points allowed in all three sets? Maybe. A service ace from Sarah Kushner ended the match and the regular season, and the Golden Eagles celebrated their third straight Big East title.
Seton Hall hit -.009 for the match, the second time this season that Marquette has held an opponent to negative hitting. On their own swings? .349, just carving swaths through the Pirate defense.
With Ella Foti sidelined for a hand injury that got worse during the St. John’s match, MU’s trio of middle blockers — Carsen Murray, Hattie Bray, and Anastasija Svetnik — combined for a stat line of 22 kills and two errors on 37 swings. .540 hitting. It’s hard to stop this offense when you get those kinds of numbers, and that’s not even taking their blocks into account.
Up Next: Marquette earned a share of the regular season title on Saturday night. Right now, as I type this on Saturday, 16-2 Marquette is a half game up on 15-2 Creighton in the standings. The Bluejays won’t finish their regular season until they host Butler at 1pm Central on Sunday afternoon. If Creighton wins, they tie Marquette for the third straight year, and the Bluejays will be the #1 seed in the conference tournament by way of tiebreakers. If Butler wins, Marquette wins the Big East title outright and they will be the #1 seed.