Women’s volleyball: Mertens a stand out in back-to-back Big East victories

Holly Mertens (left) and Carol Henney combined for a total of 21 blocks on the weekend. Photo by Aaron Ledesma/aaron.ledesma@marquette.edu

The Marquette Golden Eagles entered the weekend with a 6-0 record in the Big East, having dropped only three sets and seemingly breezing through the competition.

Over the weekend, the team found out they can win with their backs against the wall, too.

Coach Bond Shymansky’s squad faced 2-0 deficits at home on both Friday against Seton Hall and Sunday against Rutgers but took the next three sets in each to remain perfect in Big East play.

“We clearly need to find a way to get some different food or some different something to get our team jumpstarted earlier,” Shymansky said. “That’s back-to-back matches where we just came out of the gate so slow, and (it’s) not a great sign for us, and something that we’re clearly challenging our team on, and our team is challenging themselves.”

After losing the first two sets to each Big East foe, the Golden Eagles (18-6, 8-0 Big East) went on the offensive in each third set, hitting .524 against Seton Hall (13-9, 4-4 Big East) and then connecting on 15 kills against Rutgers to get within one game.

Marquette then locked up defensively in each fourth set, finishing with six team blocks against Seton Hall and seven more against Rutgers (8-17, 1-7 Big East), holding the two opponents to a combined -.080 hit percentage in the fourth frame.

In the final set, senior outside hitter Ashley Beyer said both games came down to determination.

“It’s almost who has the energy and tenacity to finish the game,” Beyer said. “A five gamer can go to anybody, and I think we knew we didn’t want to lose, and we finally woke up and realized we are a really good team when we play together.”

On Sunday, the Golden Eagles received much-needed production from an unlikely source. Redshirt junior right side hitter Holly Mertens, who has seen inconsistent minutes, recorded a career-high 15 kills in the win over the Scarlet Knights, including five kills in the third set and four blocks in the fourth set to spark the Golden Eagles.

Mertens said Shymansky’s message in the locker room was clear after the team dropped the first two sets.

“He just told us that we have to wake up,” Mertens said. “We knew we had to play better, and that’s just what we had to do. We had to go out there and play Marquette volleyball, and that’s not what we were doing in the first two games. So we had to do it, and we did it.”

The Golden Eagles, the only undefeated team left in the Big East, have shown the ability to rebound from early deficits and are now 7-3 in games where they lose the first set. But Beyer said that trend can’t continue, and that the group must enter the game with the right mentality instead of having to find it when trailing.

“We don’t want to come out in the beginning of games thinking we’re going to win and then just play horrible,” Beyer said. “So I think it’s a learning curve that everybody is coming out to beat us, and we have to have our best play all the time.”