There’s a lot on the line for Marquette volleyball on Sunday afternoon.
First, in the big picture, it’s a shot at MU’s best win of the season. Yes, the Golden Eagles beat Creighton once already this season, but this is a road game. Thus, the value of beating a #17 ranked team that’s at #14 in the RPI right now is a little bit higher than the circumstances surrounding the home win that they already have.
Second, a win would probably eliminate all doubt as to whether or not Marquette is an NCAA tournament team. Sure, they have an RPI ranking of #26, and earlier this week, the NCAA’s shot at a bracketology for the NCAA tournament had the Golden Eagles as a #8 regional seed. That makes them one of the 32 best teams in the 64 team field, and that’s not nothing. But MU is still just 16-8 overall this season with a 10-0 record against sub-100 RPI teams. There’s just way too many losses to teams that are seemingly guaranteed NCAA bids to make you 100% comfortable with getting in right now…. But beating the Bluejays a second time will fix a lot of that.
Third, Marquette can nearly eliminate Creighton from winning even a share of the Big East regular season title. Right now, Marquette is 12-1 and alone in first place in the league after beating DePaul earlier this week. St. John’s and Creighton are both 11-2 after beating Providence and DePaul on Friday. With Marquette and St. John’s playing each other in the second to last regular season contest of the year, there’s a chance, presuming that everyone involved wins their other three matches, that a Marquette win will effectively box Creighton out of a chance at a title with three losses. It won’t be a clinching situation, not with a two game lead with four to play, but it’s about as close as you can get it. Worst case scenario: A Marquette win on Sunday puts the Golden Eagles 100% in control of their destiny as outright champs in the league.
Last but not least, a win would clinch a top four finish in the league for Marquette, no matter what current fifth place team Villanova does on Sunday at Xavier. MU has 12 wins, Villanova has six losses, they could mathematically end up in a tie still, so a win by the Golden Eagles solves that.
Like I said, a lot on the line, not to mention the sheer fact of winning on the road in this series in a match held at a normal time of the year in a normal type of season for the first time since 2013.
Big East Match #14: at #17 Creighton Bluejays (19-4, 10-2 Big East)
Marquette is 7-26 all time against Creighton. The Golden Eagles have lost 13 of the last 16 matches against the Bluejays at this point, but they’ve won two of the last three after a sweep in Milwaukee earlier this season. With that said, Marquette has lost four straight to Creighton in their gym, including two Big East tournament championship matches, since a 3-0 win at Sokol on February 6, 2021, in a match that was later declared to be a conference regular season game after COVID forced a cancelation of a later pair of matches in Milwaukee. That win was itself the first road MU win in the series since 2013. Each of the last two MU/CU matches in Omaha last season went to five sets before the Golden Eagles ended up in defeat.
The Golden Eagles swept Creighton Milwaukee earlier this season, and that’s really because of one thing: The Jays couldn’t hit the ball. Not in “they were swinging and missing” terminology, but in that Marquette held Creighton to just .126 hitting in the match and never more than .188 in any given set. Interestingly, the .188 came in the set that Marquette won by the largest margin, go figure. This is all notable for two reasons. The first is that Creighton is the best hitting offense in the Big East, averaging .266 for the season, and through Wednesday’s matches, that was a top 30 hitting percentage in the country. Marquette shut them down.
Now, it’s time to explain the other notable reason, and it’s a pretty big one: Norah Sis didn’t play. The outside hitter from Papillion, Nebraska, was named preseason Big East Player of the Year, but she’s also missed 11 matches this season, including the MU contest, with an abdominal strain. She made her return on October 13th against Georgetown, but didn’t return to her regular spot in the rotation until October 20th against UConn. She’s hitting .251 on the season and in the last four contests, Sis is converting swings to kills at a .368 clip. I think she feels fine, yeah?
In short, it’s one thing to tune up the Bluejays when you can cut off Ava Martin and that leaves Destiny Ndam-Simpson and her .169 hitting percentage on the year as the second option on offense. When you have to contend with Martin and Sis, it’s a little bit of a different equation. What will Marquette have to do differently? What do they know is already in Creighton’s bag of tricks from the repeated high level contests that they’ve had against each other over the last several seasons? How does all of that come together into a coherent game plan to walk out of Omaha with a win and control of the conference?