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Marquette Women’s Volleyball: Tournament provides last chance for improvement

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Dani Carlson is happy with the team's progress this spring. Tribune File Photo.

Marquette volleyball closes out the spring season with a trip to Aurora, Ill. Saturday to participate in the Great Lakes Center 2012 Collegiate Tournament. The Golden Eagles will play five total games on Saturday starting at 8:30 a.m.

“It will be a test of physical toughness as well as mental toughness,” coach Bond Shymansky said. “It’s a chance to test that endurance factor that goes into competing all day long and doing it at a high level.”

Teams will be split into three pools and the winner of each pool will be placed into the gold division to face other pool winners. The other teams will be placed into silver or bronze divisions.

Marquette was placed into pool C with a pair of Big Ten schools, Iowa and Michigan State. The Big Ten had three of the top eight teams at season’s end in 2011.

The tournament will be the Golden Eagles’ final chance to get game experience before the fall.

“We can see our strengths and we are polishing those and making those better,” junior middle hitter Danielle Carlson said. We are identifying the things that we really need to work on. If we grow in our game in the spring, it will help us in the fall.”

Iowa hosted Marquette to start to the 2011 season in the Hawkeye Challenge, a match the Golden Eagles won 3-1. Iowa was a young team last year and, with only four upperclassmen on the roster, suffered a disappointing 11-19 record.

Michigan State is coming off of an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011. The Spartans knocked off Arizona in the opening round before losing to the No. 1 overall seed Texas in Austin. However, three of the top five Spartan players in sets played in 2011 were lost to graduation.

The lack of experience on Iowa and Michigan State will give Marquette a chance to continue to work on its blocking, Shymansky’s primary goal for the spring season.

“We are doing a lot of control drills and working on swing blocking in practice,” junior middle hitter Kelsay Mattai said. “We are focusing on the technique. In addition to game experience, we are taking time to focus on arm swing and footwork.”

Marquette averaged just over two blocks per set last season, good for 10th in the Big East. In big matches last season, the Golden Eagles were overpowered on the front line.

A prime example came in the NCAA Tournament, when Marquette was able to muster three blocks in a loss to eventual national runner-up Illinois. The Fighting Illini dominated the net with 13.5 team blocks for the match.

Marquette may get a chance to avenge that loss this weekend with Illinois participating in the tournament. The rematch would not come until the division round, as the Fighting Illini play Wisconsin-Milwaukee to open play.

The competition on Saturday will be a big test for each team as they look forward to the summer. Shymansky values the chance to play other elite programs in the spring.

“Sometimes in the spring it’s about measuring yourself,” Shymansky said. “It’s not just how you think you are doing, but how do you stack up to other teams.”

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