Marquette women’s volleyball: Mental toughness keeps Big East record unblemished

Senior outside hitter Ciara Jones led Marquette with 16 kills in its victory over Villanova on Sunday. Photo by Aaron Ledesma/

The Marquette women’s volleyball team’s on-court play helped sweep Big East foes Georgetown and Villanova, but the team believes it was mental composure and focus that allowed it to triumph.

The Golden Eagles (15-4, 5-0 Big East) breezed through their competition last weekend to keep their Big East record unblemished after five games for the first time in the program’s history.

For the experienced squad, mental focus was needed Sunday. Following a Friday performance that Shymansky said lacked emotion and was methodical, the Golden Eagles responded by maintaining their cool in tough stretches against the pesky Wildcats.

That mental composure was on display at the end of the second set. The Golden Eagles led by as many as four, until the Wildcats rallied to come back and tie the set at 24 and again at 25 and 26.

But the Golden Eagles never faltered, staying composed during the back-and-forth stretch before finishing the set with a kill from senior outside hitter Ciara Jones, who led the team with 16 kills.

“They’re able to contain themselves so well,” Shymansky said of his players’ focus. “They have good foresight and forethought about how they’re going to score the next point because they know there’s going to be a next point.”

That momentum shift continued into the third and final set, where the Golden Eagles led by as many as seven points thanks to five kills apiece from Jones and senior outside hitter Ashley Beyer.

Between sets two and three, Shymansky reiterated the importance of the upcoming set and was pleased with how his team responded.

“It’s about re-establishing your position in the gym and your dominance over an opponent or trying to regain momentum if you don’t have it,” Shymansky said. “And so I just talked to them and said ‘In the third set you give three times as much as you’ve given so far,’ and our group did that.”

Jones noted the confidence it gave the team to continue to stay aggressive against a competitive Villanova group.

“That’s the main thing I’ve been telling the team all week, is that we just have to fight back,” Jones said. “Don’t let someone punch you in the mouth and not punch back.”

Jones was named to the Big East honor roll this week after racking up 26 kills in the two wins, and Shymansky said the senior captain’s progression has carried Marquette when the team needs it most.

“This year, in every big match and every big swing we’ve needed, she’s come up with it,” Shymansky said. “It’s great to watch a senior grow from being a young woman and an immature competitor to being a strong woman out there and an unbelievable competitor.”

Fighting back and staying focused during key stretches has helped Marquette to wins in 12 of its last 13 matches and Marquette is now within a half of a game of the top of the Big East standings. But Beyer, who on Friday became just the 10th player in Marquette history to record 1,000 kills, said the team can still improve on maintaining it throughout the course of the game.

“Once we do things together, it’s crazy how well we can play,” Beyer said. “Hopefully we’ll keep working on it and get it to come together all the time and not just segments of games.”

Freshman setter Chelsea Heier was also honored by the conference this week by being named the Big East Freshman of the Week for the second time in her career after averaging 11.5 assists per set. She leads the Big East with 816 assists.