On Saturday, August 26, Marquette volleyball beat Dayton to move to 2-1 on the season. They would hold that record through the end of their match against Purdue on Friday, September 1st, and since that was a loss, Marquette dropped to 2-2 on the year.
Marquette hasn’t been above .500 on the year since.
The Purdue loss was the first of five straight for the Golden Eagles, all against ranked teams, that dropped them to 2-6 overall after losing to #1 Wisconsin at Fiserv Forum. Marquette is 4-1 since leaving Fiserv, moving them to 6-7. 2-0 in the Big East after last weekend, but still below .500 overall.
That can change this weekend, as beating both teams on deck will move Marquette to 8-7 overall.
No, that’s not strong enough.
That has to change this weekend.
This weekend, Marquette hits the road to face the two worst RPI teams in the Big East. They’re the only two sub-190 RPI teams in the conference and two of the only three sub-170 teams in the league. The Golden Eagles can not afford to take a loss to either one if they want to make the NCAA tournament.
Yes, Marquette owns a very shiny RPI of #16 through matches played on September 23rd. That really doesn’t mean anything right now, because Marquette doesn’t have the wins to back that up. All due respect to Dayton and Drake, but both teams aren’t going to play another top 80 RPI team for the rest of the regular season, and odds are both teams are going to take a loss here or there. That means their top 50 RPI status is very much in doubt as the season goes along. That’s not going to be good news for MU’s RPI, and things will just get very ugly very quickly if the Golden Eagles take on bad losses in conference play.
It’s not Must Win, it’s Don’t Lose.
It didn’t have to be like this. But Marquette scheduled up to challenge a team that went to the Sweet 16 last year and had a chance to do something special this season. That chance is out the door now, and head coach Ryan Theis and his charges have to focus on keeping their full field NCAA tournament streak alive.
Big East Match #3: at Connecticut Huskies (5-9, 0-2 Big East)
Marquette is 12-3 all time against UConn. The Golden Eagles have won nine straight meetings after beating the Huskies in a sweep in the 2022 Big East tournament semifinals. Each of the last four meetings have been 3-0 sweeps for Marquette.
UConn comes into the weekend with losses in five of their last six matches. The good news, I guess, is that the win in there is their best win of the season.... but that’s against RPI #235 Binghamton. On one hand, it seems like the Huskies are not a very good volleyball team this season. On the other hand, it seems like the Huskies were aware they might not be a very good volleyball team this season and scheduled themselves as such. You have to respect it under the idea of “schedule the toughest teams that you think you can beat” but the fact of the matter is that UConn is sitting at #196 in the RPI right now and if the losses keep stacking up, they’re going to be sub-200 before too long. That’s not what you want to see if you’re in charge of the Big East, or even if you’re, say, a head coach that’s trying to be nationally relevant each and every single season.
Is this the right spot to mention that Marquette will be the first top 50 RPI team that UConn is playing this season?
Emma Werkmeister is leading the Huskies’ attack with 2.84 kills per set this season, and Mya Avro is a decent second option at 2.40/set. Here’s the downside to that: Both women are hitting below .180 as UConn hits just .188 as a team. Cera Powell is actually second on the team in attacks, sitting in between Werkmeister and Avro, but she hits just .160 to average two kills a frame. Marquette has the blocking to make them inefficient, it’s just a matter of executing it.
The Golden Eagles are going to need to figure out what’s up with UConn’s setting. Doga Kutlu is averaging 5.53 assists per set while playing in every set and starting in 12 of 14 matches. That leads the team, but there’s not an every match or every set partner for Kutlu that makes it look like they have a locked in place setting rotation going on.
Heck, while we’re on the topic of not having a locked in place rotation going on, there’s just one UConn player — 6’1” middle blocker Taylor Pannell — who has started all 14 matches this season. There’s only three other women who have started at least 10 times. I feel like that’s part of their problem here.
Karly Berkland handles the libero duties with 3.56 digs per set to this point of the year, and it’s probably not great for UConn’s overall system that Kutlu is #2 on the statsheet with 2.64/set. If 6’3” redshirt freshman Audrey Rome is in the lineup, Marquette is going to have to contend with her at the net, as she averaged 0.90 blocks per set to lead the team. It took her a minute to start getting on the court for the Huskies to start the year, but also she’s only played in four of the last nine sets, including missing all of the St. John’s match last weekend.
Big East Match #4: at Providence Friars (6-8, 0-2 Big East)
Marquette is a perfect 17-0 all time against Providence. In fact, since this series started in 1999 and then resumed in 2014 when the Friars started playing volleyball in the Big East, Marquette is 51-2 in sets against Providence, and both of the two losses were in the first ever meeting.
Providence has lost their last three contests and four of the last five heading into the weekend. They’ll host DePaul on Saturday afternoon before Marquette comes to town, so maybe they have a chance to snap that streak or maybe it gets extended. We should probably focus on the part of their season where they started 5-4, but all of that “they know they’re not good and scheduled like it” stuff that I said about UConn applies here. The Friars are by far the worst team in the Big East in the eyes of the RPI, currently sitting at #285 and thinking real hard about slipping below #300. Playing #73 St. John’s last weekend was the first time that they had seen a team in the top 120 of the RPI this season, and they haven’t beaten anyone in the top 240.
And they have a loss to #273 Eastern Washington.
Noted Texan Shaliyah Rhoden is the most productive attacker on the roster, averaging 2.87 kills per set and hitting .252. She’s second on the team in attacks behind Macy Taylor, who averages 2.70 and — you guessed it — hits just .172. I explain volleyball hitting percentage this way to people who are new to the sport: It’s like batting average for baseball, anything over .300 means you’re doing really well. The flipside of that is also true: Under .200, aka baseball’s Mendoza Line, is not good.
Providence has an interesting setting situation going on. Sammie Ruggles has started every match and played in every set, and so she leads the team with 5.00 assists per set. Freshman Miller McDonald is #2 on the team in assists at 3.47/set, so it looks like head coach Margot Royer-Johnson is using a two setter rotation, cool, no problem, totally normal. Except. McDonald hasn’t just played in every set as Ruggles’ partner, she’s started every match. That’s wild, right? Starting two setters on the floor together? I guess it’s not much different than Marquette putting Ella Foti out on the floor with Yadhira Anchante, but Ruggles is averaging less than 1.5 attacks per set, and McDonald isn’t even at one attack per match. Foti is playing hitter for Marquette and is comfortable setting when the rotation calls for it. I don’t know what PC is doing with their pairing.
Freshman Savannah Ivie is getting the playing time at libero, it seems, as she leads the team in digs with 3.94 per set. Junior Kayla Grant is going to be someone that the Golden Eagles have to watch out for, as she averages 1.10 blocks per set. That’s just what she’s putting in the scorebook for points, that doesn’t count what she sends back for another try.