It was a long opening weekend for Marquette volleyball.
In their first action of the 2023 season, the Golden Eagles went 2-1 at the Flyer Invitational. They lost their opening match of the season on Friday, falling 3-1 (25-19, 24-26, 25-23, 25-21) to #24 Western Kentucky, but bounced back to win the next two. Both of those matches went to five sets, including a contest with Drake (18-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-19, 15-11) on Friday afternoon, as well as a Saturday evening showdown with Dayton (25-20, 18-25, 25-23, 22-25, 16-14), who was hosting the event.
Marquette had two players named to the All-Flyer Invitational team. Aubrey Hamilton averaged 2.93 kills per set and hit .218 for the weekend, including posting 20 kills for the second time as a Golden Eagle, which came against Dayton. Yadhira Anchante had a rough start, tallying just 30 assists in four sets against Western Kentucky, but she bounced back to go north of 40 in both of the five-set contests to end up averaging 8.36 assists to go with 3.00 digs per set.
The match with Western Kentucky got off to an ominous start as Sarah Kushner’s first action as a Golden Eagle was to fire a service error on the first point of the season. Still, things did not turn on Marquette in the first set until later in the proceedings as the Hilltoppers were able to extend a 16-14 lead to a 20-14 advantage with Kaylee Cox running wild with two kills and an assisted block. Marquette couldn’t shake their way back into the proceedings and fell 25-19. You will not be surprised to find out that MU hit in negative numbers, -0.038, with just four kills and five errors in the first set.
MU was able to even it out in the second set, but that wasn’t without drama. Western Kentucky opened up a 9-5 margin on the Golden Eagles early, but an ace from Yadhira Anchante put Marquette up 10-9 after a 5-0 run. MU couldn’t get more than a two point advantage, and WKU slipped back out in front, 20-17, when Aubrey Hamilton had an attack blocked. A kill from Gabby Weihe moved the Hilltoppers to set point, but the Golden Eagles scored four straight, with two kills from Jenna Reitsma in the middle, to get the 26-24 win.
A 5-1 burst to open the third set for Marquette did not pay off in the long term. WKU tied it up at six, and the Golden Eagles just couldn’t shake them. 10-8, tied at 10. 14-12, tied at 15. Eventually it shifted, and it became Marquette chasing after Western Kentucky’s small lead, but the Golden Eagles got back out in front 23-21 on a kill by Hattie Bray. That was MU’s last point of the set, and a service error by Ella Foti combined with an attacking error by Reitsma to feed a 4-0 run but the Hilltoppers to go up 2-1.
With their backs up against the wall, Marquette went on a tear in the middle of the fourth frame to turn a 7-5 WKU lead to a 14-10 Marquette advantage. Slowly but surely, Western Kentucky nibbled away at the margin to tie it at 17, and then take a 19-18 lead. MU was able to even it out at 21, but once again, the Golden Eagles couldn’t find their way past that number and Kaylee Cox nailed down two straight kills to give WKU the upset win in the season opener for both squads.
At the end of the day, Marquette just did not hit the ball well enough to win. They hit .379 as a team in the set that they won, but their best hitting percentage in the other three was just .114 in the fourth frame. Meanwhile, WKU hit .242 as a team and never worse than .114. I’d love to provide you with insight — defense by WKU? First match jitters? No Carsen Murray? Jinxed by wearing old women’s soccer jerseys? — but seeing as the game wasn’t streamed on Al Gore’s internet in the year 2023, I can’t provide strong analysis of what happened here.
Take all of that first match discussion into account and remember that both of these matches were on the same day when I say the following: Drake took a 4-0 lead out of the gate in the first set. Marquette never recovered, and Taylor Oberpriller gave the Bulldogs a 25-18 win.
Set 2 had Marquette in a 3-1 hole to start. It’s not great. They turned it around, going up 5-3 and keeping their head above water long enough to run off four straight for a 14-9 lead on a block from Ella Foti and Hattie Bray. That turned into 20-14, and sure, Drake nudged back in, pulling within three at 23-20, but the teams traded service errors to give the second frame to the Golden Eagles.
Set 3 went out of MU’s control in a hurry with Drake ripping out to an 8-1 start. Marquette made it interesting, with Jenna Reitsma eventually landing a kill to make it 21-18, but the Bulldogs had enough to hold on and close it out with a kill from Haley Bush.
Down 2-1, Marquette needed to win to extend the match into a fifth set. A 6-2 Marquette burst assisted by a pair of attacking errors from the Bulldogs put the Golden Eagles up 12-8. A 4-1 jaunt made it a 16-11 match, and control was firmly in MU’s grasp as they guided themselves to a 25-19 win.
The fifth set was, as these things tend to be, a white knuckle adventure. Yes, Marquette got out to a 2-0 lead. No, they did not hold it the whole time as they never led by more than three and Drake knotted it up at nine. MU responded to that with a 3-0 run including kills from Hattie Bray and Aubrey Hamilton, and after the Bulldogs answered with two straight of their own, Hamilton dropped in another kill before Samantha Naber closed out the match with an ace for Marquette’s first team win of the season.
Saturday’s contest with Dayton can easily be described as a back-and-forth affair, and I say easily partially because I was able to watch this one via ESPN+. Why did Dayton not stream the other matches that they were hosting? No idea, other than perhaps they are very mean and also not fun. Marquette did take control of the first when they rattled off an 11-4 run to go up 16-10 midway through. That was able to carry them through to the end for the 25-20 win, but the second set got out of their hands almost immediately as Dayton went up 11-5 out of the gate. The closest that the Golden Eagles would get the rest of the way was just four points, which they did repeatedly and as late as 22-18, but that was pretty much that for the second set.
The third set was more of the traditional back-and-forth within the set itself. After Dayton started out 2-0, neither side had a three point advantage until Marquette capped a 6-1 burst with a block from Jenna Reitsma and Hattie Bray to go up 17-13. But again, back-and-forth, and the Flyers tied it at 21 when they blocked an attack by Aubrey Hamilton. It was a duel to the finish, including Brooke Smith pulling Dayton even at 23 off a blocking error by Bray, but Marquette closed it out on a kill by Ella Foti and Bray pairing up with Sienna Ifill off the bench to stuff Lexie Almodovar, Dayton’s top attacker and eventual Flyer Invitational MVP.
2-1 Golden Eagles with a chance to end this one, but again: Back-and-forth. Quite simply, the fourth set’s first three point lead came when Dayton’s Gaby Arroyo fired an ace to make it three straight points for the Flyers and give them the set win at 25-22. Marquette was up late, 20-18 and 21-20, but couldn’t close the door.
That sent it along to a fifth set for the second straight match. Because the thing is only going to 15 points, three point leads can be a little bit more important than in other sets. So Marquette going up 6-3 and 10-7 was kind of a big deal. Then MU ripped off four straight points, including back-to-back aces by Jenna Reitsma — the second one coming in the middle of two Dayton timeouts, and Marquette was up 14-8 and cruising to wrap this up.
Yeah, that did not happen.
Dayton fended off Match Point six times in a row with two errors from Marquette — one hitting from Bray and one setting from Yadhira Anchante where she effectively just threw the ball out of bounds — pushing things along. 14-14. Anyone’s ball game, and don’t forget, gotta win by two.
A setting error by Arroyo gave Marquette their 15th point and finally Aubrey Hamilton was able to put a kill down and bring the match to a conclusion in the Golden Eagles’ favor.
Up Next: Marquette will be back on the road next weekend as the big tests in non-conference play just keep on coming. The Golden Eagles will head to Lawrence, Kansas, for a pair of matches. First up on Friday afternoon is Purdue, and that will be followed on Saturday by host Kansas. The Boilermakers were #16 in the preseason AVCA top 25, but went 1-2 with home losses to #18 Creighton and Loyola Chicago this weekend. Kansas was the unofficial #26 team in the country to start the season, and they opened up 2-0 with wins away from home over Pepperdine and Omaha.