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Volleyball takes on Illinois State in NCAA First Round

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Photo by Valeria Cardenas/valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu

Photo by Valeria Cardenas/valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu

The Marquette women’s volleyball team is headed to the NCAA Volleyball Tournament for the fourth consecutive year after earning an at-large bid to the tournament Sunday.

Despite falling short in the Big East Conference Tournament, Marquette (24-8) had the nation’s 25th best rating percentage index, which is used as a ranking for teams based on wins, losses and strength of schedule.

Marquette is led by Big East Player of the Year, sophomore Autumn Bailey, who led the conference in every major offensive category in just her second season and finished the regular season in the top-10 nationally in kills per set (4.77) and points per set (5.48). The Golden Eagles also boast First Team All-Big East players in senior Lindsay Gosh and redshirt sophomore Meghan Niemann. Gosh and Niemann both were among the most accurate hitters in the conference, placing in the top-7 in hitting percentage. Niemann also had the fifth-most blocks in the league.

Not recognized with postseason awards were sophomore Lauren Houg and redshirt junior Courtney Kintzel, though Houg earned multiple Big East Weekly Honor Roll recognitions for her play at libero and Kintzel was named to the Big East All-Tournament team thanks to a 19-kill performance in a loss to Seton Hall.

The Golden Eagles are set to face the Illinois State Redbirds (26-5) Thursday at the Wisconsin Field House in Madison. The Redbirds are on a 22-game winning streak, the second-longest active streak in Division I, and went undefeated in conference play. Illinois State last lost Sept. 18 against Baylor and dropped only 11 sets since the Baylor match.

The Redbirds are led by senior Kaitlyn Early, the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, and the back-to-back conference libero of the year, senior Emily Orrick. Illinois State coach Melissa Myers is in her seventh season and was named the 2014 MVC Coach of the Year.

The Golden Eagles and Redbirds have met just twice, and are tied 1-1 in the series. The good news for Marquette is that it took the most recent meeting last season at the Al McGuire Center, 3-2. Gosh led Marquette with 16 kills that day and Niemann added 14 of her own. More good news for the Golden Eagles: though they themselves are just 2-3 all-time in the tournament, the Redbirds are 2-12 in NCAA Tournament matches and have never won outside their home arena in tournament play.

Marquette advanced to the second round in 2011 and 2013, and first year coach Ryan Theis made four tournament appearances while at Ohio, advancing to the second round three times.

The winner of Marquette-Illinois State will take on the the winner of the match between No. 4 Wisconsin and Western Michigan in the second round and will play Friday at 7 p.m.

Marquette will bus students to Madison for the game for free. The buses will depart from the Al at 2:30 p.m. Thursday and return at approximately 9 p.m. If the Golden Eagles were to win, Marquette will again bus students to Madison for free, leaving from the Al at 4 p.m. and returning around 10:30 p.m Friday night.

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