Marquette volleyball ready to host 2019 BIG EAST Championships

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Marquette volleyball ready to host 2019 BIG EAST Championships

The Al McGuire Center will host the BIG EAST Volleyball Tournament for the second time in three years.

The Al McGuire Center will host the BIG EAST Volleyball Tournament for the second time in three years.

Photo by Elena Fiegen

The Al McGuire Center will host the BIG EAST Volleyball Tournament for the second time in three years.

Photo by Elena Fiegen

Photo by Elena Fiegen

The Al McGuire Center will host the BIG EAST Volleyball Tournament for the second time in three years.

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For the second time in three years, No. 9 Marquette volleyball has a chance to win its first-ever BIG EAST Championship at the Al McGuire Center later this month.

“We work hard in the regular seasons to be in positions to host these things,” head coach Ryan Theis said. “It will be nice to be at home.”

The 2019 BIG EAST Championships take place Nov. 29-30 at the Al. Marquette and Creighton are guaranteed a spot in the Tournament, tied for first in the conference. Villanova and St. John’s most likely will take the third and fourth spots.

Even though the Golden Eagles hosted the conference in both 2014 and 2017, the program has yet to win the tournament. A change in the BIG EAST’s process of choosing host schools is giving Marquette another shot at winning the championship at the Al.

Instead of host schools placing a bid and the coaches voting on a school, the previous year’s results determine who hosts the next year’s tournament.

“BIG EAST volleyball went to a model to where whoever wins the conference tournament the year before gets to host the next year, unless you hosted it that year, in which place it goes to number two,” Danielle Josetti, executive associate athletic director, said.

While the model has shifted from changing locations every year, Josetti said this new structure rewards the teams playing at a competitive level, giving them home court advantage.

Since Creighton hosted in 2018 and was last year’s BIG EAST champion, it could not host again in 2018. That’s why Marquette, last year’s BIG EAST runner up, was given the opportunity.

Unlike past years when Marquette hosted the tournament, this year the Golden Eagles are a top-10 team.

“We’ve been good the last eight to 10 years, but obviously being ranked ninth in the country, I think us hosting NCAAs last year, making the Sweet 16 … I’m hoping there’s a little bit more buzz among the fans,” Josetti said. “They took it to a different level last year, which helps create … more fan interest this year.”

The timing of the tournament provides an obstacle for some of that excitement. It takes place over the weekend of Thanksgiving.

“It’s always a bummer that weekend that the students aren’t around,” Theis said. “We hope that the local kids will come back. We hope families will come out. We hope the volleyball community will show up.”

“It’s a tough time to travel back to campus,” Josetti said. “What we’re hoping is some of the local students, you’ve been home maybe since Tuesday night, you’ve had your good meal Thursday, you’re kind of ready to get away from mom and dad for a couple of hours or bring mom and dad to campus and come to the game.”

Josetti said the athletic department hopes international students, who may not be going home, will attend the games.

Another issue is the unusual start time. Typically, the team plays on weekend nights, but Josetti said Marquette will compete in the 2:30 p.m. semifinal match regardless of its seed. The title match will be at 3:30 Saturday Nov. 30. Josetti said Fox Sports 2 decided the start times.

There are so many considerations when hosting an event like the BIG EAST Tournament, from facilities to marketing, but this is not something new for Marquette Athletics.

“Facilities probably has majority of the work,” Josetti said. “If anybody has a question or if something goes wrong, it’s kind of on them. Whether it’s Ethernet cables or scoreboard or it’s too cold, it’s too hot, the lights aren’t on — they’re the ones who are running around.”

The practice time is set for Thanksgiving Day, and facilities members have to be at the Al for each team’s 90-minute slots.

Last season, the team hosted the NCAA Tournament’s first and second rounds just five days after a car crashed into the Al, landing on the court and taking out seating.

Despite this, Josetti said the athletic department was still “able to host the biggest event we’ve ever had here in volleyball.”

“(The facilities staff members) are unflappable and do a really good job,” Josetti said.

Josetti said Marquette Athletics staff members held a conference call Friday with BIG EAST officials to discuss logistics.

She mentioned that Brad Gschwendtner, Marquette’s assistant director for marketing and fan engagement, has already started working on graphics for the scoreboard and uploading the top six teams’ headshots. While only four teams make the conference tournament, Josetti said Gschwendtner is looking at the top six because there’s still a weekend left before the end of the conference season.

Preparations include trying to fit every team’s hype video on Marquette’s unusually-long scoreboard. Ultimately, if the Golden Eagles play a team in the first round whose video can’t be adjusted, Josetti said Marquette won’t show theirs either to keep it fair.

For Marquette players, senior setter Lauren Speckman said hosting yields an advantage because the players get to play at home, sleep in their own beds, be in their locker room and conduct their normal pregame routine.

“Playing in the Al, like I’ve said before, is unbelievable,” Speckman said. “The fact that I get to do that all the time is quite the blessing.”

Seven members of the team are from Wisconsin, meaning their families are local and able to attend.

“The Al is such a great place to play in,” senior outside hitter Allie Barber said. “We have our tera flex (surface), fans come and with it being around Thanksgiving, then we have families come too. It’s just more of a nice home environment.”

Josetti said the university wants to provide an environment that makes it conducive for Marquette to have the best path possible to win the conference championship. The athletic department also wants to put an event for the conference teams where they will say Marquette “does such a great job hosting, we want the tournament to be there every year.”

“Our goal is to do such a good job that they do go to this model where we’re able to host multiple times in a short period of time,” Josetti said.

This story was written by Zoe Comerford. She can be reached at isabel.comerford@marquette.edu and on Twitter @zoe_comerford.

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