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Looking to finish strong

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The Marquette women's volleyball team can expect to face headier opponents as it wraps up its 11-16 season at the Thanksgiving Tournament in Kalamazoo, Mich.

The Golden Eagles play against Western Michigan and Miami (Ohio), which both boast impressive records – Western Michigan holds a 25-2 overall record and Miami is 19-11.

"It will be a challenge facing more experienced teams like Western (Michigan) and Miami, but I think if the girls bring out their competition and desire to win we should do all right," said coach Erica Heisser. "It will be a fun match-up."

Since Marquette has no hopes of making it to the NCAA Tournament, assistant coach Raftyn Rignell said the tournament will be more relaxed.

"It's not really any pressure because no matter what, this will be our last game of the year," Rignell said. "It's not a laid back mentality but no pressure, the games don't mean anything."

Although Marquette isn't playing for the NCAA Tournament, Miami is hoping for a bid, said coach Carolyn Condit.

The Redhawks came in third at the Mid-American Conference, and Condit said she hopes the team's record will pull it through.

"We hope to go into this tournament and sweep both matches in hopes we may have a slim chance to possibly get in at large to the NCAA Tournament," Condit said.

Miami – ranked No. 45 in NCAA Women's Volleyball RPI – beat Wisconsin earlier this year. Marquette lost a 3-0 decision to Wisconsin on Sept. 21.

Western Michigan – ranked No. 40 – made it through two rounds in the Mid-American Conference and also defeated Marquette 3-0 in November 2005.

Heisser said Western Michigan will prove to be a big challenge.

"They've always had a really athletic team, faster offense," Heisser said. "It's a good challenge for us to work on our blocking, tracking a faster offense."

Blocking and defense hurt Marquette against Pittsburgh on Nov. 16. The Golden Eagles made seven blocks to Pittsburgh's 10 and 17 digs to Pittsburgh's 26. Libero Amy Deelo made zero digs and middle blocker Tiara Russell recorded two blocks.

Rignell said the team is working on its passing and defense specifically this week.

"Just get our groove back with that," Rignell said. "We kind of lost our way a little bit that game, so that's one of our strengths, it's not like it's a weakness. We have to work on just fine-tuning that area of our game."

Marquette actually surpasses Western Michigan and Miami in blocks, recording 285, compared to 219.5 and 198, respectively. However the Golden Eagles falter in digs, with 1,362 to Western Michigan's 1,915 and Miami's 1,446.

Marquette has had a tumultuous season fraught with nine Big East losses and the sudden resignation of coach Pati Rolf.

Heisser said Rolf's departure brought the team closer together and that the season's ups and downs in performance have been indicative of the team's youth.

"We have three freshmen playing full time, two sophomores, and Caryn (Mastandrea) is a young setter, so it shows that we're learning and figuring out how to put games back to back and win two days in a row," Heisser said.

Freshman Ciara Jones, who Heisser said is gradually receiving more playing time as she heals from a foot injury, said the team is working to end on a good note.

"Just to finish strong and try and make the most of this crazy season," Jones said.

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