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Is Marquette Volleyball Still The Best Team On Campus?

The new season starts at the end of the month, so it feels like a good time to assess Ryan Theis and his program’s hold on Top Dog Status at the McGuire Center.

Aubrey Hamilton
Aubrey Hamilton’s got a lot of reasons to smile.
Marquette University

I’ve been calling Marquette women’s volleyball The Best Team On Campus for a while now. I can officially track it at least as far back as December of 2021, when I used the hashtag #BestTeamOnCampus to celebrate the Golden Eagles earning a spot in the NCAA tournament:

The case for Ryan Theis’ program as the best team on campus is pretty simple: Marquette hasn’t missed a full NCAA tournament in women’s volleyball since 2010, which was Bond Shymansky’s second season in charge. In that same window, from 2011 through 2022, Marquette has won three Big East regular season championships, including each of the last two, a Big East tournament title, and have reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament twice. Three players have combined to win four Big East Player of the Year trophies. Marquette has had 18 All-Americans according to the AVCA, with Elizabeth Koberstein and Allie Barber separating themselves from the Honorable Mentions with a Third Team and a Second Team honor respectively.

The only fly in the ointment is my carefully worded phrasing of “full NCAA tournament.” The Golden Eagles were left out of the Spring 2021 national championship field after they went 10-4 and the field was limited to just 48 teams instead of the traditional 64. That’s the only time that Marquette has missed the NCAA tournament in over a decade. They knew what the rules were as far as inclusion were, so we can’t say that it’s only because of the reduced field, but we can’t say it’s not because of that, either.

So, as you can see from the top of the page, we’re here today to ask if anyone is capable of taking the Best Team On Campus title from volleyball, both in the immediate term as well as in the not distant future.

We’re able to dismiss some teams from contention fairly quickly.

  • Women’s Soccer hasn’t qualified for the NCAA tournament since 2016, and hasn’t been in the Big East tournament since 2017.
  • Men’s Soccer has made the NCAA tournament just once since back-to-back trips in 2012 and 2013, and they’ve missed each of the last two Big East tournaments.
  • Men’s Lacrosse hasn’t had a winning season since 2016, although they were 8-7 when they entered the NCAA tournament in 2017 before losing to Notre Dame.
  • Women’s Lacrosse qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time ever in 2023, which does give them a nice start to a challenge, but leaves them far off the pace set by volleyball.
  • Both men’s and women’s track and field had a hot run in the mid-2010s, but the last Big East title for either team was back in 2017 when the women won their second straight outdoor championship.
  • The closest that either men’s or women’s cross country has come to a recent Big East title was a run of fourth place finishes between 2017 and 2019.
  • Men’s Tennis won the program’s first and now only Big East championship in 2018.
  • Women’s Tennis hasn’t won a conference championship and/or made the NCAA tournament since 1999, when they won the Conference USA title and went to the national championship field.

None of this is meant to badmouth any of the hard work by any of these athletes, and if you’ve been reading this site for long enough, you’re well aware of my celebration of any and all Marquette achievements.

If you’re counting along at home, you’ve figured out that I haven’t mentioned three Marquette teams.

The first is men’s basketball, and I wanted to give them their own highlight here. They qualify for Watch Status because Shaka Smart has guided the program to two straight NCAA tournaments in his two years in charge. On top of that, they are the reigning Big East regular season and tournament champions. However, this past March’s win over Vermont was Marquette’s first NCAA men’s basketball tournament victory since 2013, and the program had only gone to the national championship field twice since that previous victory. Things clearly appear to be on the upswing for men’s hoops, and big things are expected in 2023-24.... but we can’t come close to saying that they can knock volleyball off the podium right now.

The other two teams aren’t quite in position to knock volleyball down a peg right this second, but they’re also not that far away.

This past spring, men’s golf won the program’s fifth Big East championship and fourth since 2017. In that same stretch of four titles, they finished second each year that they did not win the conference championship. Since 2015, three men have combined to win five Big East Player of the Year trophies, and Marquette has been named Coaching Staff of the Year in the league five times. Since 2015, Marquette has had the Big East individual champion at the team championships five times. In 2021, Hunter Eichhorn became the first Marquette player to play in the NCAA regionals three times thanks to his individual qualifications in 2018 and 2019, and in 2022, he became the first MU player to appear four times. Of Marquette’s top 10 career scoring leaders, eight have been active since 2015.

That’s a lot of really impressive stuff, but it does lack the year-in, year-out consistency that volleyball has managed. I don’t want to say that men’s golf not finishing in the top half in any of the five NCAA team regional appearances in program history is working against them here, but it’s also not helping their case, y’know?

The other team that we haven’t mentioned yet is women’s basketball. Between Carolyn Kieger and Megan Duffy since the 2016-17 season, Marquette has appeared in five of the six NCAA tournaments that were contested, and they went to the third round of the WNIT in the other year. In 2017, Kieger won the program’s first ever Big East tournament title, and in 2018 and 2019, she guided the squad to back-to-back regular season championships. With the exception of the very weird 2020-21 season when they only played 21 games and went 17-3, Marquette has won at least 21 games in each and every season since that year when they won the Big East tourney at the McGuire Center.

That’s good consistency, and that’s the kind of thing that puts you in this conversation. However, Marquette went from 2012 through 2016 without an NCAA tournament appearance, and heck, they only had one winning season in there. It’s recent consistency for women’s hoops, but not long term consistency like volleyball has been displaying over the exact same time frame where WBB was struggling.

And there you have it. Volleyball is still The Best Team On Campus, and honestly, it’s not extremely close right now. We have some candidates who could find themselves in position to take over if volleyball were to experience a couple of down years, but that’s the catch, isn’t it? This isn’t a neck-and-neck back and forth race right now. Volleyball is out to a commanding lead at the moment, and if they suddenly take several dramatic steps backwards from their current standard, yes, they could get overtaken by some teams who are showing an ability to win consistently.

But it’s going to take several seasons worth of several steps backwards for that to happen.

We’ll keep our eyes on this race as things continue to develop, but it’s going to take some pretty momentous happenings on the field and/or court to cause us to re-open the books in the next few years.