If you’ve been paying attention, we’ve already started talking a little bit about Marquette women’s soccer and men’s soccer for the 2023 fall season. This is where we start talking the volleyball team, which has the biggest potential upside of the three team competition sports that we keep tabs on here at Anonymous Eagle. Nothing against the soccer teams here, it’s just that the volleyball is poised (as I write this on August 9th) to enter the season ranked and favored to win the Big East. Can’t say the same for the soccer squads.
One of the reasons why the volleyball team is set up so well for this fall? Player retention. Marquette returns all but one of the 10 players who appeared in at least 50 of the 116 sets that were played last year. Libero Carly Skrabak will be a notable loss because of what she added to the team, but when your only real rotation question is “who’s going to play libero?” you’re doing pretty good after winning a second straight regular season title and advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the second time in program history.
In other words? We’re going to be here for a while, as this article is talking about the returning players on the roster. Go get yourself a beverage and get comfy.
There’s only one place to start an article like this, and that’s with last year’s point per set leader. That’s Aubrey Hamilton, as the Notre Dame transfer ranked fifth in the Big East at 4.00 points per set mostly powered by 3.45 kills per frame. She took more than one-quarter of the swings last season for Marquette, so if there’s one spot that Hamilton could improve, it would be hitting percentage. MU was the best hitting team on average in the Big East last season at .287, but Hamilton was underneath that number at .247. That was still better than the .210 that #2 outside hitter Jenna Reitsma posted last season on her way to 2.70 kills per set. Here’s the good news for Reitsma and Marquette’s offense in general: .210 was an improvement from .152 as a freshman the year before so 1) Yay growth and 2) There’s clearly room for Marquette’s offense as a whole to get a little bit better if both Hamilton and Reitsma connect with the floor a little bit more often in 2023. Both women are big contributors on the other end of the game as well, as they both averaged north of two digs per set.
There are a trio of sophomores of varying experience behind Reitsma and Hamilton on the depth chart. Ella Holmstrom is one of the 10 women who appeared in 50 sets last season, playing a little bit in 26 of MU’s 33 matches. The Illinois native averaged just over a point per set and hit .195 as Marquette’s generally accepted rotation kept her on the bench most of the time. However, she was the star of the show in Match #5 last season, putting up 17 kills on 34 swings to lead the team in that department in a 3-1 win over Loyola Chicago. If Holmstrom is capable of that on a regular basis, she can play a big part for Marquette this season.
The other two sophomores are Natalie Ring and Sienna Ifill. They appeared in 19 and 18 sets respectively, as they were holding down deep bench type roles that you’d somewhat expect to see for freshmen on a team that’s headed towards a second straight conference title. I do want to point out that Ring hit .314 on 35 swings last season, and while that’s very much Small Sample Size Theater, I also like to think positively about what it could mean for her playing time and performance in 2023.
Now, if you’re thinking I forgot an outside hitter, you’re kind of right......
..... because Ella Foti is no longer listed as a setter/outside hitter on the roster. She’s now only listed as a setter, so we’ll have to wait and see for what that means for 1) her role on this team and 2) Marquette’s overall system of play. Last year, Foti split starts with defensive specialist Samantha Naber, depending on what look head coach Ryan Theis wanted at the start of the match. Foti did a lot for the Golden Eagles, playing in 115 of MU’s 116 sets and averaging 2.65 points, hitting .306, and averaging a little bit over a dig per set. I was surprised to see that she averaged just 0.17 assists per set as I had the impression that Marquette was running a modified two-setter system where Foti took over setting duties instead of a different setting subbing on to the floor.
Using Foti to transition from hitters to setters means we skipped riiiiiiight on past Marquette’s starting setter and the Big East’s 2022 Setter of the Year, Yadhira Anchante. The 6-foot tall Peruvian made a clear and obvious impact on Marquette and the Big East last season, averaging 10.78 assists per set, second most in the Big East, but also hitting .371 as she regularly read the defense to dump a setter kill on them, once per set on average. Anchante also added an ace and a block once per match, and she averaged 2.75 digs per set, too. This of course leads us to wonder how many assists Anchante is capable of averaging if she’s not the one making the first touch on the ball. I’m not expecting it to happen because Creighton’s Norah Sis is very good at volleyball, but there’s a chance that Anchante is named preseason Big East Player of the Year. Worst case scenario: If she’s as good as she was last year and Marquette has a Big East title-caliber season, Anchante could be the one standing tall when it’s time to vote on postseason awards.
Part of the reason why Marquette was so good last season? A pair of big seasons in the middle. Carsen Murray rode the second best blocks per set (1.08) average in the Big East to a unanimously decided spot on the postseason all-conference team. Of course, that’s not all she did, as Murray also added 2.28 kills per set and led the Big East in hitting percentage at .416. That was also the second best hitting percentage season in Marquette history, trailing only Rabbecka Gonyo’s 2010 campaign.
Do you know who was second in the Big East in hitting percentage? If you guessed Hattie Bray, Murray’s middle blocking partner, well, you are 100% correct. Bray came in at .354 on the year, settling for ninth best in program history. She used that hitting percentage to average 2.16 kills per set, and she added 0.73 blocks per frame, too. Oh, and that was as a redshirt freshman, so we’re going to get to see another three seasons of growth and performance from Bray going forward.
There are two middle blockers behind Murray and Bray on the depth chart, one that we’ve seen a little bit of and one that we haven’t seen anything of so far. Anastasija Svetnik was limited by way of injury to just 16 sets in five matches last season, wearing a sleeve and a knee brace all year long. That knee brace was still in full view during Marquette’s European trip in early June, so it’s hard to think that she’s going to have a gigantic impact for the Golden Eagles in the fall. Morgan Daugherty is the mystery middle, as the 6’3” Brookfield resident did not see action in 2022. That was her first year on campus, and with Murray and Bray taking up so much playing time, that’s not all that surprising. The question is, of course, how can Daugherty break through to some PT this year if nothing much has changed in front of her in the rotation?
If you were paying careful attention, then you noticed that I already mentioned a defensive specialist in our rundown. That’s Samantha Naber, and she came up since she started 16 matches for Marquette last season, splitting spots in the lineup with Ella Foti. The Burlington native averaged 1.46 digs and nearly an assist every other set last season as she played the secondary DS spot behind Carly Skrabak’s libero in the rotation. The stats don’t hold it up, but with 113 sets played out of 116 total last season, Naber was a critical component of what MU was doing on the floor, both technically and emotionally, as her enthusiasm was regularly obvious and visible. Logic would dictate that Naber would slide into the libero role this season with Skrabak’s departure.... but for reasons that we’ll get into in our Newcomers article, it looks like Naber will be continuing along in the same role for her junior year.
Jadyn Garrison had a part to play last year, filling in as “Special Guest Server” when Ryan Theis needed to change up his rotation for one reason or another. Garrison recorded 14 aces in her 82 sets of action, including a career high three — all in a row, by the way — in that slightly odd Loyola Chicago match that was led by Ella Holmstrom back in September of 2022. Adriana Studer rounds out the returning names in the position group, and she had a quiet freshman year as you might expect based on everything that I’ve mentioned in this section already. 18 sets played across 14 matches, three assists, 10 digs. I don’t know if we’ll see a change in her role this season either, and again, we’ll talk a little bit more about it in the Newcomers article in the future.