The Marquette women’s volleyball team defeated its crosstown rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee (22-25, 25-18, 25-16, 25-10) Saturday night en route to a 2-1 performance in the Marquette Invitational at the Al McGuire Center.
The Golden Eagles also swept Iowa (25-18, 25-14, 25-18) Saturday afternoon and fell to Pacific in a tight five set match (25-23, 21-25, 25-22, 20-25, 9-15) Friday. The team improved to 9-3.
“We didn’t play like ourselves,” junior libero Julie Jeziorowski said of the weekend’s matches. “What defeated us was the mental game, because we were definitely more physical than Pacific. But we figured it out by actions. That was the only way we could show our confidence. Once we established that, we got it going again.”
In the rivalry game against Milwaukee, Marquette started slowly, dropping only its second first set in 12 matches this season. But in the second set, the team responded and followed it up with perhaps its three most impressive sets of the season.
“We finally lost a first set and actually responded,” coach Bond Shymansky said. “We know what we want to do as coaches, but it’s not really up to us, it’s up to the team. Can we have that first set intensity and urgency and hunger every single set and not let it go down on us?”
A big reason the team responded so well was the second set explosion from senior right side hitter Holly Mertens. She hit .900 in the frame with nine kills on ten attacks.
“I thought Holly was exceptional tonight,” Shymansky said. “She was really devastating on the backside attack, and we need that. That’s a big part of our offensive system.”
Mertens felt she needed to rise to the occasion in an important rivalry match.
“It felt great,” Mertens said. “We’re kind of playing for our territory here in Milwaukee. I just went out and wanted to fight hard. Me and Bisky (junior setter Elizabeth Koberstein) had a connection going that I don’t think anybody could stop.”
However, heading into Big East play next weekend, the question of whether the team can play at an elite level for five sets still looms large.
“We just have to be a lot tougher and a little more steely at the end of tight matches like that,” Shymansky said. “We ran out of steam there. That’s stuff that we’re going to have to work on as a coaching staff to make sure our team is better prepared for those moments.”
Shymansky conceded that the recent losses to Pacific and Northern Iowa showed problems in his team’s overall endurance.
“Are we really five-game ready?” Shymansky said. “Are we really physically, mentally and technically ready to be great in the fifth set, not just in the first set? The answer to that right now is no. We have to figure that out really fast.”
Jeziorowski certainly looks capable of shouldering the load late on in tight matches. She shined in the weekend’s matches, recording more than 25 digs in each of the three contests. However, she gave a lot of the credit to the quality blocking of her teammates.
“When the defense is good, it’s more frustrating to the opposing team,” Jeziorowski said. “Defense isn’t only about the digs. Our block is setting up really pretty blocks, so its easy to see around them and know where to go. Then the ball just comes to us.”
Shymansky loves the advantage Jeziorowski gives his team. Her play continues to garner increasing attention and respect from opponents.
“We see more and more teams trying to play keep-away from her,” Shymansky said. “They don’t serve the ball to her, they don’t hit the ball to her, they don’t want her to play the first contact in any way, shape or form. She’s starting to gobble up more and more court, and we need that.”
Overall, the weekend tournament impressed Shymansky and provided the team with some building blocks as it enters Big East play.
“We played tough at times, and we played really high and hit really hard at times, and that’s the hallmark for our program,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article attributed the photo of Holly Mertens to Marquette Athletics. It was in fact taken by Valeria Cardenas. The Tribune regrets the error.