Volleyball faces stiff competition in Fort Myers

Marquette Women's Volleyball vs. USC
Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

The Marquette women’s volleyball team started its season rather predictably. It posted a 2-2 record, defeated two unranked teams and fell to two ranked ones. While the missed opportunities against then No. 13 BYU and then No. 3 USC frustrated coach Bond Shymansky and his team, another opportunity for a landmark win will present itself Friday afternoon.

The Golden Eagles will head down south for three matches Friday and Saturday at the Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites Airport Volleyball Classic on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. Marquette faces No. 3 Penn State Friday at 1 p.m., the hosts Florida Gulf Coast Friday night at 6 p.m. and Central Arkansas at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Marquette vs. No. 3 Penn State, Friday, Sept. 13, 1 p.m., Alico Arena

The Nittany Lions started 2013 3-1, only falling to No. 2 Texas in five sets on the road last weekend. In its most recent match, the team smashed No. 5 Florida, Marquette’s next ranked opponent, in straight sets. That tournament was called the Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic for a reason; it was contested by whom Nike viewed as the four best programs in the nation.

Who could blame Nike for including PSU in that tourney? Coach Russ Rose began his 34th season in Happy Valley this fall and has five NCAA titles to his name. The Nittany Lions most recently won the whole shebang in 2010.

Player to Watch: Micha Hancock, junior, setter, Edmond, Okla.

Hancock is the starting setter for PSU, and is averaging 9.86 assists per set so far this season. That’s actually very average; Marquette setter Elizabeth Koberstein is averaging nearly two assists more per set. But Hancock really shines from the service line. She averages an impressive 1.14 aces per set, which leads the nation in 2013. In her sophomore season, she was named an American Volleyball Coaches Association first team All-American and she was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2011.

Fun Fact: Redshirt freshman outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame, PSU’s leading hitter in 2013, hails from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Prediction: Penn State in four sets

Marquette vs. Florida Gulf Coast, Friday, Sept. 13, 6 p.m., Alico Arena

The Eagles have started slow in 2013, opening 1-6 in the non-conference season. However, their list of losses doesn’t have many slouches on it, and includes Ohio State and Florida State. Former Big East member USF played FGCU in the Eagles’ home opener and beat them in four sets. FGCU won the Atlantic Sun in 2012.

Player to Watch: Kaitlin Holm, senior, outside hitter, Fort Myers, Fla.

Holm goes to school and plays volleyball in her hometown, and has put together a nice career for the Eagles. She transferred from Marshall after her freshman season, and by her junior year, was a unanimous selection to the Atlantic Sun Conference first team. She leads FGCU with 3.22 kills per set in 2013.

Fun Fact: Dunk City. If the volleyball team flies as high as the basketball team did in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Marquette is in trouble.

Prediction: Marquette in three

Marquette vs. Central Arkansas, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2 p.m., Alico Arena 

The name Central Arkansas doesn’t inspire much initial fear, but the Sugar Bears, great mascot, are 6-1 with a four-game winning streak heading into this weekend. UCA won the regular season and conference tournament championship in the Southland in 2012, and advanced to their first NCAA Tournament.

Player to Watch: Marissa Collins, senior, setter, Pearland, Texas.

Collins stands out this year because of her absurd assists, averaging 12.06 per set. She is also a two-time Southland Conference Setter of the year. Her average from 2012 is even higher than it is so far this year, at 12.42 assists per set.

Fun Fact: Besides the Sugar Bear thing, they have players named Fulani, Scout and Kyle.

Prediction: Marquette in five