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SEASON PREVIEW: Theis hopes to take experienced team farther in postseason play

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Graphic by Tom Hillmeyer

Graphic by Tom Hillmeyer

Graphic by Tom Hillmeyer

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After watching Marquette women’s volleyball practice at the Al McGuire Center, one can’t help but notice the breadth of experience across the court. The team lost just one starter to graduation.

“We were already able to start this preseason with more advanced stuff, having everybody back all spring,” head coach Ryan Theis said.

Now after going 22-10 and reaching the 2017 BIG EAST Championship before an early exit in the NCAA Tournament, Theis is looking to take his experienced unit farther in postseason play.

“We weren’t playing our best at the end of the year, which was unfortunate,” Theis said. “We want to learn from that and do whatever we can to make sure we’re playing our best at the end.”

Redshirt senior Jenna Rosenthal, senior Anna Haak and junior Allie Barber are expected to play key roles as Theis looks to take Marquette past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

“They’re responsible for making sure everybody’s being good teammates in the locker room,” Theis said. “When we’re not around as coaches, they’re responsible for starting the practice at a high energy level and if freshmen aren’t, trying to make sure they get there.”

The Golden Eagles open their non-conference season on the road at Texas State Friday with six of the first 11 matches on the road. The team’s home opener won’t be until Sept. 7 against University of Southern California.

Three of those 11 non-conference matchups are against teams that finished in NCAA Women’s Volleyball Rating Percentage Index Top 30 last season, including Wisconsin at No. 13, BYU at No. 15 and Western Kentucky at No. 29.

“The teams we play, over the next 11 matches, a lot of them will be NCAA Tournament teams, some of them will be seeded NCAA Tournament teams,” Theis said. “How we do against those teams can show us what kind of team we can be at the end of the year.”

For the first time in program history, the team was selected No. 1 in the BIG EAST coaches preseason poll. The Golden Eagles earned 78 points, narrowly edging Creighton with 76 points.

 

Newcomers

At the end of last year, women’s volleyball added three new signees to the 2018-’19 roster: Ellie Koontz, Claire Mosher and Katie Schoessow.

“We’re in between lineup stuff right now; I think all three will see time this year … it’s just a matter of when they see their time,” Theis said.

Koontz, the 6-foot-1 right side hitter from Minneapolis, could be an important part of the front line, as Theis said she has a quick left arm that results in point scoring.

Claire Mosher, the 5-foot-10 setter and sister of junior outside hitter Madeline Mosher, set high school records in career assists, aces and blocks with over 1,000 digs and kills. Mosher has impressed Theis with her great court awareness.

Schoessow, the 5-foot-6 defensive specialist was three-time all-state, all-conference and all-area player from the libero position. She will likely take the place of now-graduated Manon Geoffroy, as Marquette is in need of a libero.

 

Outside hitters

The Golden Eagles will rely significantly on three returners: Barber, Haak and sophomore Hope Werch.

Barber was recently selected as BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year after receiving BIG EAST Player of the Year honors in 2017. She was an honorable mention for the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American, finishing her sophomore season hitting 0.328 and earning 5.05 points per set. Barber led the BIG EAST and was ninth in the NCAA with 4.71 kills per set average and 14th nationally with 586 total points.

Haak, a University of Miami transfer, received 2017 BIG EAST All-Tournament honors for her first year at Marquette after notching 2.85 kills per set and hitting 0.211.

Werch earned a spot on the Preseason All-BIG EAST team after being chosen as BIG EAST Freshman of the Year for the Golden Eagles. She averaged 2.18 kills per set and collected 2.75 digs in her first season.

 

Middle blockers

Rosenthal will be the player to watch in 2018 as she begins her senior year.

Throughout her career, the 6-foot-6 middle hitter received many honors, including First Team All-BIG EAST in 2016 and 2017, BIG EAST All-Tournament Team in 2017 and Preseason All-BIG EAST Team for 2017 and 2018. She earned AVCA All-East Coast Region honors in both 2016 and 2017 as well. For three consecutive summers, she was  on the USA Volleyball Collegiate National Team.

Last season, Rosenthal notched 2.55 kills per set, hitting 0.330. She led the team with 31 aces and put up 1.07 blocks per set for Marquette. Theis said he knows this is Rosenthal’s year to shine.

“This is, without question, the best I’ve ever seen her,” Theis said.

The coaches decided to redshirt the 6-foot-4 junior Sandy Mohr after not seeing much court time last season. She returned to Marquette in 2017 after playing NAIA volleyball at Evangel, where she averaged 2.24 kills per set.

“What we’re trying to do is elongate her career so we have her two more years after this,” Theis said. “We think she can be a pretty valuable piece the next two, and so we’re hoping the other two middles can stay healthy and that Sandy doesn’t play at all.” 

 

Defensive specialists

Following lone senior Geoffroy’s graduation in May, Martha Konovodoff is the team’s only returning defensive specialist starter.

Some of her honors last season include BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Week for Sept. 5, as well as leading the team with 477 digs and 4.11 digs per set.

 

Setters

Junior Lauren Speckman and sophomore Sarah Rose will be in contention for the designated setter position this upcoming season.

Speckman made the 2017 All-BIG EAST Second Team after leading the Golden Eagles in assists with 1312 and having  1.85 digs per set, 48 total blocks and 0.51 kills per set.

Meanwhile, Rose could see more playing time after starting only one of 22 matches. She was most effective on defense, with 0.73 digs per set from 33 total digs.

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