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Three keys for volleyball in first Sweet 16

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Three keys for volleyball in first Sweet 16

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

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Marquette women’s volleyball will travel to Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, to take on No. 3-seeded University of Illinois Friday in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Here are three keys for the Golden Eagles in attempting to topple the powerful Illini:

 

Defend the middle of the court

Early on in the season, the middle part of the court was Marquette’s kryptonite. As the year has progressed, the Golden Eagles have vastly improved their defensive efforts, thanks in part to sophomore libero Martha Konovodoff, but against Illinois, that may not be enough.

“(Illinois is) trying to be pretty fast offensively, so we just have to be prepared for that,” head coach Ryan Theis said. “If we get caught watching the ball or watching any particular player too long, we’ll just get lost and end up missing the easier plays that we should get.”

Illini senior setter Jordyn Poulter is one of the best in the country, as she ranks 12th nationally with 11.5 assists per set. A part of three All-Big Ten First Teams and a 2017 AVCA All-American Third Team nominee, Poulter has the ability to deceive defenses by pretending to set her teammates up for an attack, and then tapping the ball into the open spot in the middle of the court.

Meanwhile, junior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade will garner a lot of Marquette’s attention on the defensive side of the net, and sophomore Megan Cooney and redshirt junior Beth Prince are both quite dangerous at the net and have incredible precision.

“When you block, you almost set up a triage,” redshirt senior middle blocker Jenna Rosenthal said. “So if you try to get them all, you won’t get any. That’s why with our blocking and defensive schemes, we’ll make sure we’re taking care of the main threats first and play good defense. I know Martha’s got my back back there, so it doesn’t all have to be done with the block in the front row. “

 

Get Hope Werch and Anna Haak going

Theis has talked all season about sophomore Hope Werch being the x-factor for this Golden Eagles squad. If Werch is able to come out to a hot start at the net, teams have to pick between blocking Haak or stars Allie Barber and Jenna Rosenthal.

Senior Anna Haak is another player who has the ability to make noise in the offensive game. With her quick footwork, outlandish vertical and phenomenal volleyball IQ, she is a nightmare for the opposition if she can get going.

“Hope and Anna both are the glue that pass and hit and play all six rotations,” Theis said. “There’s matches that those two are producing a lot offensively, and they’re are a handful.”

If Haak and Werch are on their game, Marquette will have five weapons every time they reach the net, which is an invaluable asset.

 

Dominate play above the net

Illinois boasts multiple players who can give teams terrors at the net, including middle blockers Ali Bastianelli and Ashlyn Fleming. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 respectively, both players average over one block per set.

The Golden Eagles must figure out ways to get their attacks up over these two middle blockers as well as their pins, which lots of teams have struggled to do against the Illini this year.

“There’s no doubt you’re going to have to score off the edges of the block (against Illinois),” Theis said. “They take away the middle of the court, … so you’ve got to attack the perimeters.”

As was evident against Cincinnati, the Golden Eagles can dominate play above the net easily if they play smart. On the defensive end, Marquette will need to make the right reads and get their hands in the faces of Illinois’ hitters.

“We’ve put together a really good defensive scheme, blocking-wise and having the defenders behind us around that,” Rosenthal said. “As long as we make sure we’re getting out on the outside, … we can get some stops, turn it around and do what we do best, which is score.”

Players like Barber, Haak, Ellie Koontz, Madeline Mosher, Elizabeth Orf, Rosenthal and Werch have all shown their blocking prowess throughout this season and now, more than ever, they will need to step up to stifle some of the most potent attackers in the nation.

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