Volleyball defeats FGCU, Central Arkansas, falls to Penn State over weekend

Lindsey GoshAfter a tough three-set loss to No. 3 Penn State Friday afternoon, the Marquette women’s volleyball team bounced back to sweep Florida Gulf Coast Friday night and defeat Central Arkansas in five sets Saturday, claiming second place in the Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites Airport Volleyball Classic. The Golden Eagles pushed their record to 4-3 this season, with all three losses coming to top-15 teams. Coach Bond Shymansky thought the Nittany Lions provided Marquette’s stiffest test to date.

“I thought we played well this weekend.” Shymansky said. “We played a little bit sharper, a little bit cleaner. We faced a tougher foe than we’ve seen before in Penn State. They’ve showed why they’ve won five championships and are always a Final Four type of team.”

Marquette struggled to stay with the Nittany Lions in all three sets, as PSU ripped off late runs to win 25-17, 25-12, 25-17. Penn State out hit the Golden Eagles .414 to .163 in the sweep. Freshman outside hitter Autumn Bailey still managed a match-high 13 kills in the loss.

“We set a really good game, but they just out-executed us in the transition game,” Shymansky said. “It was a good lesson for us that the next step we need to take forward as a program is to be sharper in transition. It’s a great indication for me that we are making big strides.”

Junior right side hitter Lindsey Gosh, who had just five kills against Penn State, agreed with Shymansky about her team’s improvement. She also felt the Nittany Lions’ style of play slowed Marquette’s momentum.

“I thought our team performed really well,” Gosh said. “We gave Penn State what we could give them. We did a lot better than against USC who we played the previous weekend. With Penn State, it was hard because they are more of a dull team, and that brought us down a little bit.”

After the difficult defeat, the Golden Eagles had to gather themselves to take on hosts Florida Gulf Coast just three hours later. They eked out a narrow first set win and then cruised to its first sweep of 2013 with scores of 26-24, 25-17 and 25-16. Redshirt freshman middle hitter Meghan Niemann had the best game of her short career, delivering 13 kills and hitting a game high .478. Bailey and Gosh also delivered double-digit kills with 12 and 10, respectively.

“We still had our confidence,” Gosh said. “Bond told us ‘you guys did really well against them, you’ve just got to prepare for the next match.’ That’s what we did. We watched film, prepared mentally and physically and did what we could do.”

With Penn State sweeping all three teams it played, Marquette needed to beat Central Arkansas Saturday to grab second place and escape the weekend with a winning record. Gosh was the star for Marquette in its third game of the weekend, hitting .412 and logging a match-high 17 kills and leading the team to a come-from-behind five-set win (25-23, 23-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-11). Bailey chipped in 15 kills and 11 digs for her fifth double-double in seven matches at Marquette.

“The fifth set is where your nerves get tested,”  Shymansky said. “Our group is growing up a little bit and getting a little bit stronger at the end of a match mentally as well as physically … We certainly didn’t overlook them, we didn’t take them for granted.”

Marquette faces a quick turnaround, as it faces Wisconsin-Green Bay on the road Tuesday. The Phoenix are coached by Michaela Franklin, who served as Shymansky’s top assistant for four years, and started 4-4, including a win at the Auburn Active Ankle Challenge.

“She knows our team way better than I know their team,” Shymansky said of Franklin. “I think that’s a big advantage for them, especially being on their gym floor. Our team is fully aware of that and definitely looking forward to it.”