In October, the Marquette women’s volleyball team walked into the loud, intimidating atmosphere of D.J. Sokol Arena in Omaha, Neb. and were swept soundly by Creighton.
Determined not to make the same mistake twice, the top-seeded Golden Eagles (24-5) played two matches of solid volleyball to knock off No. 4 Butler and No. 2 Creighton in a pair of four-set matches to win the Big East Tournament title.
“We’re so proud of our accomplishments this regular season and to back up the regular season championship with a tournament trophy was great,” coach Bond Shymansky said. “It has been such a special year for us thus far.”
The team’s experienced leader, senior libero Julie Jeziorowski, viewed the title as the result of four years of hard work and dedication.
“From a senior’s perspective, it’s something we’ve worked four years for,” Jeziorowski said. “It’s something we’ve always wanted. We’ve always been so close. We always got to taste it but never actually got to eat the whole meal. It’s always so hard. Now that we have it and it’s ours, it’s an incredible feeling.”
The Golden Eagles began their tournament title quest Friday when they defeated Butler in four sets (25-18, 14-25, 25-22, 25-16). Jeziorowski powered Marquette with 29 digs, one off from her season-high. Freshman outside hitter Nele Barber led the team with 18 kills and hit .500 while senior setter Elizabeth Koberstein had 49 assists.
“We knew they were going to fight tooth-and-nail,” said Koberstein, who was named Big East Player of the Year earlier in the week. “And they did. So maintaining our focus and maintaining our composure with that team especially was really important.”
The Bulldogs smacked the Golden Eagles in the second set and forced them to make adjustments during the intermission in order to win the final two frames.
“It’s all about adjustments,” Jeziorowski said. “We had a game plan going into the first set, it worked, they adjusted and did what they needed to do in the second set. We had that 10-minute break to re-adjust again, and we were a lot more resilient in that we could adjust for the last two games.”
Marquette booked its ticket to the Big East final, where it faced host and No. 2 seed Creighton. The Golden Eagles faltered again in the second set, but eventually scored a convincing four-set victory (25-18, 25-27, 25-21, 25-16) to claim the title.
Freshman outside hitter Autumn Bailey recorded a match-high 17 kills and Barber and redshirt freshman middle hitter Meghan Niemann added 16 and 15, respectively. As such, Koberstein racked up 56 assists and won the tournament’s most valuable player award. Jeziorowski totaled 27 digs and Bailey contributed 19 of her own. The team made yet another intermission adjustment to claim the important victory.
“We felt we got a little mentally soft in our serve and pass game in the second set,” Shymansky said. “That’s what kept Creighton in it. That was our primary adjustment, doubling down on that mentality. We shifted a couple things with blocking and started attacking in different directions.”
With the championship in hand and their RPI to No. 8, the Golden Eagles expected to receive one of the 16 protected seeds in the NCAA Tournament, which begins Thursday. The seed was not forthcoming, but Marquette drew a compelling first round matchup with Louisville, its old Big East rival, in Champaign, Ill. Friday.
“It was such a bittersweet moment,” Jeziorowski said. “We wanted to host so bad, we wanted to see that number next to our name. When we saw Louisville, the first thing that came to mind was revenge.”