GRESKA: MU volleyball should be part of NCAA Tournament

Andrei Greska

Dear NCAA Tournament selection committee,

You can’t leave them out. You simply can’t. I don’t care what an arbitrary collection of numbers, better known as the Ratings Percentage Index, tells you. These women deserve to dance.

You have to look at the whole picture when deciding whether the 2011 version of the Marquette women’s volleyball team is worthy of an invitation to this year’s tourney.

On paper, it looks like this squad is a mirror image of last year’s team, one headed by All-Americans Nikki Klingsporn and Rabbecka Gonyo that finished 23-9 overall, 11-3 in conference play and 1-1 in the Big East Championship tournament. This year the Golden Eagles are 23-9 — with one game left to play — 12-2 in conference, and 1-1 in the Big East tournament.

This team is much more deserving of a seat at the ball, though.

Take redshirt junior right side Holly Mertens as the most damning evidence. Left for dead after four injury-plagued seasons, Mertens pulled a Lazarus and came back to life, turning into Lazar (Hayward) circa 2010.

In her first three seasons, including a redshirt year in 2008, Mertens averaged 1.41 kills per set, putting down 106 kills in 75 sets played. You could tell she had the talent in her. She was lean, agile and ferocious in the games she did play, but injuries to her knee wreaked havoc on her game, never allowing her to blossom.

And then something clicked. Mertens burst out onto the scene in late in the season, coming out of nowhere to record a career-high 15 kills against Rutgers on Oct. 23. She has steamrolled from there, averaging 2.13 kills per set and adding a whole new wrinkle to the offense.

When speaking of Marquette’s high-powered offense, it all begins with freshman setter Chelsea Heier. Playing under Klingsporn’s shadow early on in the year, Heier made a name for herself during conference play with five Big East Freshman of the Week selections culminating in a Big East Freshman of the Year award.

Heier quickly forged a lethal connection with senior outside hitter Ciara Jones, knowing just when and where to set her up. Jones racked up a career high 419 kills this season en route to a first team selection on the All-Big East team. When Jones went up with the ball anywhere near the net, there was only one possible result: destruction.

If Jones was thunder, then fellow senior outside hitter Ashley Beyer was lightning. After an injury caused a slow start to her season, Beyer was back to being the total package before long. Not only did she rack up 388 kills, she also led the team in aces and was third in digs. She claimed a spot on the the All-Big East Second Team for her “do it all” mentality.

While Beyer met expectations this season, junior middle hitter Danielle Carlson shattered them in transitioning from right side to middle hitter. On a scale from one to five, Carlson was a 10 this season, picking up exactly where Gonyo left off and getting named to the All-Big East First Team.

I can throw stats at you for days, but as any good statistician can tell you, numbers can lie. Use the eye test, though, and you’ll see the stats only bolster the resume.

This team can compete with any team in the country, going five sets against a then-No. 9 Minnesota and being two points away from a berth in the Big East Championship title game.

If you’re still not convinced, just take a look at the man at the helm. Coach Bond Shymansky is a wizard on the dance floor, taking his former club Georgia Tech to three NCAA Tournaments, reaching the Elite Eight in 2004.

This team has the talent, depth and pedigree to make some noise in the big show. All it needs is the opportunity to take out its dancing shoes.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have the power to make it a reality. Make it so.