Volleyball enters BIG EAST Tournament with much to be gained

With Golden Eagles on NCAA Tournament bubble, win vs. No. 1 Creighton may be needed for bid

Photo+by+Maggie+Bean%2FMarquette+Athletics

Photo by Maggie Bean

Photo by Maggie Bean/Marquette Athletics

Marquette volleyball enters the BIG EAST Tournament on precarious ground.

After breezing through a six-match stretch in late October without a loss, Marquette has dropped three out of its last six matches, including a 3-1 decision at Xavier to lock the Golden Eagles into the fourth seed. They ended the regular season with a 21-10 overall record and a 12-6 mark in conference play.

The next and perhaps only chance for a bounce-back comes Friday afternoon when the Golden Eagles take on the team that has so often confounded them in recent years – the Creighton Bluejays. Creighton has defeated Marquette in four consecutive matches dating back to 2014, including twice this year already.

There’s a lot at stake for Marquette this weekend. Once thought to be a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament, Marquette’s RPI has dropped from its zenith of 24th in the country before their home match against Creighton in early November to 36th coming into this weekend. While that mark is usually good enough to earn a tournament bert – every team with RPI 39th and above made it in last year – a blowout loss could sink Marquette’s ranking enough to leave them on the wrong side of the bubble.

Marquette is also seeking a measure of redemption after exiting the conference tournament early last year. A five-set loss to the Seton Hall Pirates in the tournament semifinals was the first time since 2009 that the Golden Eagles did not make at least the second round of the BIG EAST Tournament.

In order to reverse their fortunes, they will have to go through a Creighton squad that has been nothing short of tremendous this season. They lead the BIG EAST in kills, hitting percentage and assists. Three Bluejays were named to the All-BIG EAST first team, including BIG EAST Freshman of the Year Jaali Winters, who has been a revelation for Creighton’s offense. The outside hitter from Ankney, Iowa averages just shy of four kills per set. She demolished Marquette almost singlehandedly when the two teams met in October, racking up 23 kills on 37 swings.

The Golden Eagles will look to combat Creighton’s lethal offense with an attack of their own, led by All-BIG EAST First Team players Taylor Louis and Meghan Niemann. Louis, a redshirt freshman, finished the regular season ranked 5th in Division I with 4.86 kills per set. Niemann, a redshirt junior, led the team with a .335 hitting percentage, but hit an astronomical .382 in conference play.

Opening tip against Creighton is at 12:30 pm CT Friday and can be viewed on the BIG EAST Digital Network. The winner of the match will play the winner of the Xavier vs. Villanova semifinal for the BIG EAST title on Saturday at 1:00 pm CT.