Marquette Women’s Volleyball: Treacherous road trip ahead

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Julie Jeziorowski goes up to serve. Photo by Aaron Ledesma/ aaron.ledesma@marquette.edu

The Marquette women’s volleyball team (20-6, 10-0 Big East) will test its undefeated conference record this weekend with two difficult road matches against Cincinnati (18-8, 8-2) on Saturday and Louisville (17-6, 9-1) Sunday.

Those two teams, who are second and third respectively behind Marquette in Big East standings, have high-octane offenses that could challenge the Golden Eagles.

The Cardinals lead the conference in both hitting percentage (.268) and kills per set (13.43), while the Bearcats are top three in both categories (.223 hitting percentage, 13.2 kills per set).

Junior middle hitter Kelsey Mattai knows that blocking will be critically important in beating their competitors, keeping Marquette atop the standings and securing a number one seed in the upcoming Big East Championship tournament.

“There is a different energy in the gym this week,” Mattai said. “Collectively, we’re coming together and working hard. We’re really focusing on closing the block and pressing over.”

Louisville boasts the Big East’s top hitter, junior outside hitter Lola Arslanbekova of Uzbekistan, who has 410 kills – 84 more than any other hitter, and averages five kills per set.

Senior outside hitter Ciara Jones, Marquette’s top hitter and currently ranked third in the conference, averages 3.6 kills.

“Louisville is a lot bigger, more physical style of play and Cincinnati is fast and explosive and has some really dynamic athletes,” coach Bond Shymansky said. “And so this is where we’re going to have to not only be tactically sound and be able to adjust and adapt, but we are going to have to be us.”

This begins on the defensive end, where middle hitters must combine with the back row to not let any offensive threat, especially Arslanbekova, take over the game.

“Our defensive specialist (assistant coach Michaela Franklin) helped us prepare for what Lola has to offer,” sophomore libero Julie Jezerowski said. “But we cannot be intimidated by her, and make sure our blocking and digs can take her out of the game.”

According to Jezerowski, the growth of Marquette’s middle hitters has helped the team on the defensive end.  She said that this recent trend, along with the team’s improvement in practice, allows her to be confident entering the weekend.

No matter the opponent, the Golden Eagles rally around playing their own style of volleyball, which each player described as gritty and intense.

“This is our biggest regular season Big East Conference weekend; our team is just excited about it,” Shymansky said. “We’re not overlooking Cincinnati to go play Louisville, they’re both equal caliber opponents … we have to stay focused on being Marquette and not get caught in somebody else’s system, rhythm or tempo.”

His players echoed this sentiment, that if they stayed true to “Marquette volleyball,” the opponent is relatively meaningless.

“Our motto is ‘intensity leads to execution,’” Mattai said. “And (Marquette volleyball) is about intensity leading us to execute fast offense, and making sure to embody the Marquette spirit. Our chip on our shoulder originates from how humble we are.”

Jezerowski explained it differently.

“I guess the whole season has been figuring out what Marquette volleyball is. But now we’re putting everything together,” she said. “When we get our passes together, swings together, and defense (together) we’re an unstoppable team.”

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