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Marquette faces experienced opponent in first round of NCAA Tournament

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Marquette faces experienced opponent in first round of NCAA Tournament

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

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Marquette volleyball is about to host its first NCAA Tournament matchup in program history, but head coach Ryan Theis said he is trying to treat the next few days like the rest of the season.

“Although it’s the NCAA Tournament, (we decided) we’d be loose, we’d have fun, we would work hard and we’d prepare to try and win some matches,” Theis said. “(We’re) excited to be in (our) own beds resting and we’re ready for a home court advantage.”

The overall 14th-ranked Golden Eagles have a tall task ahead of them, attempting to take down an experienced High Point roster. The Panthers are coming off three straight NCAA Tournament appearances and have five seniors in their starting lineup.

“They know what they’re doing,” Theis said. “For them, winning an NCAA Tournament round would (cap off) their careers and make it worth their while.”

The Panthers’ five senior starters are Abby Broadstreet, Adeline Ellis, Jordan Hefner, Molly Livingston and Katie Tylman.

Livingston, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker out of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, poses the biggest threat to Marquette. As HPU’s leader in kills, blocks and hitting percentage, Livingston was 2018 Big South Conference Player of the Year. She also made her third straight appearance on the league’s First Team.

Hefner, another 6-foot-2 middle, is a reigning All-Big South Second Team member and holds the program’s single season block record.

Broadstreet, Ellis and Tylman, all operating out of the outside hitter position, see plenty of quality time for the Panthers. Tylman especially has gained a reputation around the country as a skilled opposite hitter.

HPU also boasts a number of highly talented underclassmen, including libero Abby Bottomley, hitter Madison Smith and setters Jenna Smith and Mackenzi Thornburg.

Bottomley, a sophomore hailing from Virginia Beach, is a back-to-back first team all-conference member averaging 5.3 digs per set, and her style of play is similar to players who have shaken up the Golden Eagles’ hitters all year long.

First-year head coach Ryan Meek leads the Panthers after previously working as an assistant at Creighton, where he beat Marquette on several occasions.

Marquette will likely be focused on covering the middle of the court, controlling play above the net and dictating the pace of play.

Sophomore libero Martha Konovodoff is mostly going to be tasked with defending the middle of the court as the only defensive-minded player on the court. Anna Haak, Sarah Rose and Katie Schoessow have all played an important role in defending the middle as well, and their efforts are going to be needed Friday night.

The presence of 6-foot-6 middle blocker Jenna Rosenthal, 6-foot-5 outside hitter Allie Barber and 6-foot-3 middle Elizabeth Orf are expected to make a difference at the net against a shorter High Point team. The tallest players for High Point are listed at 6-foot-2.

Dictating the pace of play has been a strength of the Golden Eagles all year long. In games earlier on this season, longer points have tended to haunt Marquette. But if they are able to quickly side-out and get kills early in points, the Golden Eagles are likely to make quick work of the Panthers.

Marquette has excelled at production from the service line and accuracy in passing, something that Theis recognizes as the team’s “identity.”

“We’re very good at the serve-pass. Our three passers, and four if you include Katie (Schoessow), are doing a really good job of keeping us in system,” Theis said. “If you can serve-pass you can be in a game with anybody. Then you throw in an Allie Barber or a Jenna Rosenthal at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 and you’ve got some physicality to go with it.”

Though the Golden Eagles are expected to cruise into the Sweet 16, they recognize the importance of taking this tournament one step at a time.

“This group’s done a really good job all year of not overlooking anyone,” Theis said. “Our goal is to win one match at a time. We’re pretty focused on High Point at this point, and we know those other two teams here are pretty good, too.”

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