I don’t want to say that the train has completely gone off the tracks for Marquette volleyball, but I think we can safely say that the first seven matches of the 2023 season are not going anywhere close to the way that head coach Ryan Theis hoped that they might.
On Friday, #24 Marquette took a 3-0 (25-15, 25-13, 25-20) loss to #9 Pittsburgh Panthers. On Sunday, with their spot in the AVCA top 25 poll on the line, the Golden Eagles fell to #18 Tennessee in a sweep with scores of 25-19, 25-22, and 25-22.
Marquette is now 2-5 on the year and is riding a four match losing streak. All five losses this season have come against ranked teams. Marquette has not lost consecutive matches since getting swept by #8 Kentucky and #2 Wisconsin back in the 2021 season. They haven’t lost three straight since the final three matches of the 2016 season where they closed the regular season with a loss to Xavier, lost to the Musketeers in the Big East tournament, and then fell to Washington State in the NCAA tournament. There have not been four straight losses since the 2008 season, when MU took a run of losses in Big East play to UConn, USF, Georgetown, and Syracuse.
The Pitt match. Yeah. It started out as a perfectly respectable volleyball match against a top 10 opponent. 15-13 Panthers in the first after a combo block from Ella Foti and Carsen Murray, etc., nothing interesting to report quite yet..... and then Pitt went on a 10-2 run to close the set. In retrospect, it was probably a bad sign that four of Marquette’s 13 early points came off of Pitt service errors. After 40 points played, Pitt was hitting .367 and Marquette was hitting a flat .000.
And then the Panthers went up 10-3 to start the second set.
Somehow, Marquette managed to make it 13-8, which isn’t great, but at least they’re clawing points back midway through the set, right? Yeah, that was the extent of the fun here, as Pitt answered with an 8-1 run. 21-9, and we’re just playing out the string at that point. Pitt only hit .214 in that one, but Marquette was well underwater in the frame at -.100 and thus -.047 over both sets to that points. I’m not even sure that Marquette was playing poorly, even though there’s obviously evidence that they were. It just looked like a team that went to the Final Four last year was stomping down a team that only went to the Sweet 16.
After a 6-2 and 9-3 start for the visitors in the third set, Marquette got a little bit going. Carsen Murray scored a third straight point to make it 12-10 and prompt a timeout from the Panthers, and Aubrey Hamilton scored out of the stoppage to make it a one point match. Service error, service ace, block, kill, 16-11 Pitt, and that was kind of it. Marquette cut it to 20-17 late, but all that did was get Pitt to lock in and close out the match with a 25-20 finale.
A .216 final frame left Marquette hitting .050 in the match, and you’re just not going to beat a top 10 team doing that, no matter what they hit against you. To continue a point I made going into the season: Aubrey Hamilton and Jenna Reitsma finished the match with 10 kills..... and 11 errors between the two of them.
After getting roughed up by the Panthers, Marquette opened up Sunday afternoon’s match against Tennessee by going down 7-2 to start and then after a timeout, allowing another Vols point for an 8-2 deficit right away. They cut into it, getting the margin down to two at 11-9, but they couldn’t get any closer even if the margin looks respectable at 25-19. By the way: Aubrey Hamilton had eight of her nine first set kills after that 8-2 opening, and that still couldn’t get Marquette anywhere.
Marquette opened up the second set with a 10-7 start and I started to say, “hey, this is the team that got voted to #12 in the country in the preseason poll.” And then they gave up a 4-0 run to throw their lead in the trash. The set stayed competitive the rest of the way, including Marquette tying it up at 19, but it went to the Vols at the end.
Third set! Do or die time for Marquette if they want to keep that ranking.... and Tennessee got out to a 9-3 early advantage. It’s not what you want to see. MU got it within two at 13-11 and traded points with UT to a 15-13 mark, but that’s as close as they could get it until a block from Anastasija Svetnik combined with a misplayed ball from Tennessee’s Morgahn Fingall to make it 23-22 Vols. Not quite enough, and two straight from the visitors handed MU another 3-0 loss.
Up Next: So. Uh. We were all kind of hoping that Wednesday’s showdown with Wisconsin would be a big deal, seeing as it’s at Fiserv Forum and all. That’s clearly not the case, even with the Badgers sitting at #1 in the AVCA rankings and staying undefeated over the weekend. First serve at Fiserv is scheduled for 7pm Central, and FS1 will carry the broadcast. Marquette will be trying to avoid a fifth straight defeat, something that hasn’t happened since the 2007 season when they lost their final eight straight Big East matches.