We have A LOT of volleyball to get to, so let’s do it, shall we?
On Wednesday, Marquette welcomed #1 Wisconsin and 17,037 fans to Fiserv Forum to set an NCAA Division 1 indoor regular season attendance record. While that was very cool and fun to be a part of, the result did not match up to the historic nature of the event from a Marquette perspective. The Badgers ended up staying perfect on the year and protected their #1 ranking by way of a 3-1 (28-26, 20-25, 26-24, 25-18) victory. The Golden Eagles then turned around less than 24 hours later to go visit Milwaukee at Klotsche Pavilion on the east side, and finally, after five straight losses, all against ranked opponents, Marquette snapped that losing streak with a 3-1 (25-14, 25-18, 17-25, 25-17) win over the Panthers.
While the loss to Wisconsin dropped Marquette to 2-6 on the year and gave them five straight losses, albeit all to ranked opponents, I was left with the feeling that it was MU’s best performance of the year. It had its downsides, mind you, but the downsides were created by the positions that Marquette put themselves in as the match went along. In the first set, neither team could do a damn thing right, at least it seemed that way, but a kill from Aubrey Hamilton was followed by a kill from Carsen Murray, and then the two combined to jam up UW’s Devyn Robinson. 21-17 Marquette. All the Golden Eagles had to do was shove it across the line, and they got it to 22-19. But the Badgers got four straight to push themselves to a set point position first, and eventually they closed it out on a block by Robinson and Carter Booth.
Set #2 is the one that Marquette won, so we’ll note that the Golden Eagles were not all that far from going up 2-0 as we move along to set #3. A shaky start left Wisconsin up 5-2 early, but MU punched back to take a 10-9 lead and things went kind of like that for a while. Four straight for Marquette made it 20-17, and a setter kill from Yadhira Anchante had Marquette up 22-18. Even closer to the W than they were in the first, and then Murray put Wisconsin in jeopardy with a kill to make it 24-21. One point. One quality rally for a 2-1 lead on the #1 team in the country.
Five straight Badgers points. Three kills, one each from CC Crawford, Anna Smrek, and Sarah Franklin, then a block of an Ella Foti attack, and then an error by Jenna Reitsma to give UW the 26-24 win. 2-1 Badgers.
There’s an argument that Marquette should have swept the #1 team in the country. The counter to that is that the #1 team in the country is the #1 team in the country for a reason. The front half of the fourth set was back-and-forth, but Wisconsin ran off a 7-2 burst to turn a 9-8 Marquette lead to a 15-11 UW lead, and that was kind of the end of things. As I said to my wife at the time, the #1 team in the country decided that they’d like to be back home before midnight.
Highlights, courtesy of Fox Sports and GoMarquette.com:
Marquette had to bounce back to play again 23 hours later, and the first set against Milwaukee was that of a formerly ranked team frustrated by their 2-6 record with six losses to teams ranked at the time. MU hit .282 and held the Panthers to just .095 and took a 25-14 win. Milwaukee was out in front early in the second, but an 8-1 Marquette run in the second put the Golden Eagles up 17-13, and another four straight late had them holding a 24-17 lead.
I don’t know what happened in the third set, maybe fatigue caught up with the Golden Eagles as they played their fourth match in seven days. But MU hit just .036 while Milwaukee ran wild at .542. Marquette was up 9-6 early but gave up a 12-3 run to fall behind 18-12 and that gave the Panthers the space that they needed to take a set from Marquette for the first time in over a decade. It’s not giving up a set to Milwaukee that’s troubling, it was going to happen eventually. It’s the fact that Marquette let their foot off the gas with a 2-0 lead and riding a five match losing streak that bothers me.
A 5-0 run early in the fourth put Marquette up 10-6 on the Panthers, but that didn’t make Milwaukee go away. It was tied at 13 and pretty close for a good long stretch after that, up until a missed attack by Jenna Reitsma pulled UWM within two, 18-16. Then Marquette did to Milwaukee what Wisconsin did to Marquette the night before. “No, we’re done here, we’re going home.” Six straight points: Block, kill, kill, kill, kill, block. 24-16, and a kill from Ella Foti wrapped it up to snap the losing streak and move Marquette to 3-6 on the year.
Highlights, courtesy of ESPN+ and GoMarquette.com:
But the week is not wrapped up. Friday is an off day for Ryan Theis and his team, and then they’ll play two more matches this weekend, including playing host to a top 10 team for the third time this season. These will be the final non-conference matches of the season, which makes them the last chance that the Golden Eagles get to try to put a shine on their RPI.
Match #10: vs Air Force Falcons (8-1)
Marquette is 2-0 all time against Air Force. Both meetings were in back to back seasons in 1996 and 1997, but the Falcons have never come to Milwaukee. The first meeting was in an event hosted by Georgetown, and the second match was in an event hosted by Air Force.
Air Force’s loss this season came at home in their third match of the season. The Falcons had to win the fourth set to push it along to a fifth frame, but they ended up on the short end of the stick against UT Arlington. That means that Air Force goes into Friday night’s contest on the road against Milwaukee on a six match winning streak. They’ve won three contests in five sets during that run, so it’s safe to say that they’re pretty battle tested even if they haven’t come up against a ranked team to this point of the season.
Joi Harvey and Aaryn Scires make for a pretty good 1-2 punch for the Falcons’ offense. Harvey leads the team with 2.37 kills per set, and the middle blocker from Arizona is hitting .359 on the year. Scires is right behind Harvey at 2.32 kills, and with the team lead in attacks, that means the 5’11” Texan is only hitting .242 on the year. Ostensibly, Caroline Reinkensmeyer is the starting setter, but head coach Keith Barnett has been all over the place with her rotational partner. Reinkensmeyer averages just 5.79 assists per set while playing in every frame and starting all nine matches. Three different women are averaging at least 2.50 assists per set this season, but none of them have appeared in more than the 19 sets that Amber Soto and her 4.05 average has seen so far.
Jordan Suan has the team lead in digs at 3.79 per set, but no one else on the team is above 2.00. Ashley Bible comes the closest at 1.73, and there’s a lot of women averaging at least a dig per set. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for Marquette’s offensive approach to things. Harvey is also the team leader in blocks, as she puts down 1.13 per set for a point.
Aside: It’s ever so slightly weird to be clicking around on Air Force’s website and constantly seeing Boeing and Lockheed Martin “official sponsor” graphics. I get it, I’m just saying it’s different than what you get with most other programs.
Match #11: vs #7 Oregon Ducks (8-1)
Date: Sunday, September 17, 2023
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FoxSports.com/live or the Fox Sports app
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteVB
This will be the first ever meeting between Marquette and Oregon Ducks.
Oregon has a busy week as well, and given the travel involved, you could argue they’re a little bit more stressed than Marquette. On Thursday night, they snagged a five set win over #8 Pittsburgh, the same Panthers squad that beat MU in Milwaukee, and they did that in Pitt’s building, too. On Friday, they’ll still be in the Steel City for a match against James Madison before making their way to Milwaukee for that 1pm start.
Oregon’s one loss on the year came against then-#10 Minnesota in five sets, and it was on a neutral floor in a Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge event hosted by Stanford. Insert conference realignment joke here. They followed that up by beating then-#15 Ohio State in Palo Alto the very next day, so going 1-1 in that situation is pretty good, even for a top 10 ranked team. The Ducks started out the year with a win over then-#13 San Diego as well, but the Toreros have gone 3-4 since then, which does take the edge off of that a little bit.
Shutting down Mimi Colyer will be priority #1 for Marquette. The 6’3” Californian averaging 5.26 points on 4.42 kills per set and she’s hitting .249 on the year. Colyer had what passes for an off night on Thursday, going for “only” 19 kills in five sets against Pitt and hitting .208. Gabby Gonzales (2.97, .275) and Morgan Lewis (2.84, .356) are doing pretty good for secondary options behind Colyer, so MU’s defense will require a deft touch to limit quality chances. Hannah Pukis will be the one directing traffic, and the junior from Washington does a great job at that to the tune of 11 assists per set.
Georgia Murphy is the team leader in digs at 2.97, but it’s clear that head coach Matt Ulmer is a team mentality guy here. Pukis, Colyer, and Gonzales all average at least 2.20 digs on top of what they’re doing to drive the offense forward, too. Kara McGhee and Karson Bacon both average over 1.10 blocks per set, and the 6’5” McGhee’s not that far from 1.50. She’s on a bit of a heater with six assisted blocks against Pitt and seven plus a solo stuff against Ohio State in Oregon’s last two contests.