GOLDSTEIN: Volleyball is exceeding expectations

Photo+by+Doug+Peters%2Fdouglas.peters%40marquette.edu

Photo by Doug Peters/douglas.peters@marquette.edu

Andrew Goldstein, andrew.goldstein@marquette.edu

When the BIG EAST volleyball preseason poll came out, I was a bit incredulous, to say the least. Second place? Really? Like, in the entire conference? Are the BIG EAST coaches and I looking at the same team here?

Sure, there was reason for optimism–Marquette was coming off its fifth consecutive 20-win season and its fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance–but this figured to be the weakest Marquette team in a while.

I thought that this team had a slim chance to finish third in the conference, but probably more like fourth or fifth. I predicted that they would be on the bubble for the NCAA tournament as a best-case scenario. I never once thought that they would achieve the kind of relevance this year that they had last year.

However, after roughly two months of play, I can safely say I was wrong.

Marquette enters the final seven games of their regular season, only one game outside of second place and three games behind conference-leading Creighton. The Golden Eagles are also 27th in the RPI rankings.

Marquette advanced up the RPI rankings by winning matches that I never  imagined them winning. They swept Dayton, a 2014 NCAA tournament team. They prevailed in close matches over Miami and Northern Colorado, also tournament teams from last year. They even went up against Iowa State, a team ranked No. 21 RPI, and swept them on their home floor.

Yes, there were some tough losses and avoidable errors along the way. There were plenty of hitting mistakes, missed block opportunities and service errors in the early goings. However, that sort of thing was to be expected with a young team.

However, this team seems to learn from its mistakes. The Golden Eagles have not lost back-to-back matches all year; something they haven’t done since September 2012.

It’s clear that just about every Golden Eagle player has outperformed expectations. Taylor Louis and her five kills per set have been fantastic. Middle blockers Jenna Rosenthal and Meghan Niemann have been great on both offense and defense at the net. And Riley Burchett, Lauren Houg and Ellen Hays anchor a defense that absolutely refuses to let the ball hit the floor, which is why Marquette leads the conference in digs.

In short, kudos to the Marquette team and kudos to the volleyball coaching staff. Barring a catastrophic collapse, this team will make both the BIG EAST tournament and the NCAA tournament when I thought that neither would happen this year.