The Marquette women’s volleyball team won two Big East matches on the road this weekend, defeating Notre Dame (12-25, 26-24, 13-25, 27-25, 15-7) Saturday and DePaul (25-19, 25-20, 25-23) Sunday. The Golden Eagles improved to 12-3 on the season with their third consecutive win at the start of Big East play.
Senior right side hitter Holly Mertens led the Golden Eagles with 33 kills on the weekend, including a career-high 20 kills in the five-set win over the Irish. Mertens hit a whopping .647 in the two matches with just four errors, and she was named Big East player of the week Monday for her efforts.
“It was awesome, especially to go into Notre Dame’s house and DePaul’s house and show them what’s up,” Mertens said. “We’ve been home for so long and it was a transition, but we handled it well and came away with two W’s.”
Coach Bond Shymansky gave Mertens credit for her intensity, which almost kept Marquette in the match against Notre Dame by itself.
“Holly would get subbed out of the back row, and she’d come off of the court and say ‘Gimme the ball. Gimme the ball, Coach.’” Shymasnky said. “I love that. That’s such a great thing to be saying, not just to us, but for her teammates to be hearing.”
Mertens knew she had to step up after Marquette nearly gave the game away to Notre Dame with two awful sets the team lost by a combined score of 50-25.
“Those two sets were very uncharacteristic for us,” Mertens said. “Right after losing like that, we understood what we did wrong, and we have so much fight in us. We know that that’s not Marquette volleyball, and we just went out and took it to them.”
Shymansky echoed Mertens, knowing that the Golden Eagles usually start far better.
“It was the worst first set that I’ve seen us play all year,” Shymansky said. “We talked about brushing it of a little bit. It was so clear early on in that first set that it was out of hand and that we needed to regain focus and control. Our group did a really good job of that.”
The Notre Dame win bucked a trend for the Golden Eagles, who had lost two five-set matches in 2012 and three straight going back to the 2011 Big East Tournament. Shymansky said overcoming that hurdle was big for Marquette.
“We’d been tested by really good teams in fifth sets this year and came up short,” Shymansky said. “Until you have that experience of being there and feeling what that’s like, then you’re just not sure if you can do it.”
Junior libero Julie Jeziorowski said the Notre Dame game showed Marquette’s fighting spirit.
“It was big confidence boost because it showed us that up or down, we can always win anything,” Jeziorowski said.
Despite the impressive victory against Notre Dame, Marquette still had to prepare for DePaul the next day. The turnaround tested the Golden Eagles, even though they recorded a sweep of the Blue Demons.
“It was physically taxing and emotionally draining for us to win that five-setter at Notre Dame,” Shymansky said. “It’s a quick turnaround … maybe 12 hours of mental preparation with DePaul.”
As a result, Marquette struggled to put DePaul away early and instead met them in a grind-it-out struggle.
“We came out and tested the waters with them a little bit,” Shymansky said. “We were playing point-for-point with them for all three sets. It was up to us to step it up, put our foot down and pull out the victory.”
Overall, the two wins on the road started Shymansky and his team off on the right foot in Big East play.
“Winning on the road is a tough thing to do,” Shymansky said. “Sometimes it feels like quicksand out there; the harder you struggle, the deeper you sink. We definitely went up to our earlobes at Notre Dame and just found a way to work together as a team and fight back.”