Volleyball heads to third consecutive BIG EAST Championship match with sweep over Villanova

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Photo by John Steppe

Junior outside hitter Hope Werch had eight kills in Marquette's three-set sweep over Villanova Nov. 29 at the Al McGuire Center.

Jack Phillips

No. 12 Marquette defeated Villanova in straight sets (25-22, 25-18, 25-19) in the first match of the 2019 BIG EAST Championships Friday afternoon.

The second-seeded Golden Eagles had no problems in the first set claiming an early 12-7 lead off a four-point scoring run. MU eventually extended that to a 17-12 advantage. Although the Wildcats fought off two set points, the Golden Eagles won the first frame 25-22.

“I did think we started off playing well, focused, engaged,” head coach Ryan Theis said. “A big start helps when you’re at home and gives the other team maybe less hope.”

At one point Marquette was siding out at 87.5%.

“We prepared really well this week and we wanted to come out starting strong and we did that today,” senior outside hitter Allie Barber said.

In the second set, it was a completely different Villanova team, jumping out to a 9-5 lead. However the Golden Eagles fought back to tie it at 13-13.

“Villanova is a really good team, so they’re capable of doing that,” Barber said. “Our passers did a really good job fighting off tough serves and got us out of that.”

Both teams traded off runs in the middle of that frame until Marquette went on a 4-0 run and eventually secured the second set 25-18.

“We were forcing it a little bit, trying to score maybe when opportunities weren’t there,” Theis said.

In the third, the Golden Eagles started with a 11-9 lead and never relinquished the lead, ending Villanova’s postseason hopes. The Wildcats have not won a BIG EAST Championships match since 2015 against Xavier.

MU hit its best clip of a combined .394 in the final set.

Barber led the way for the Golden Eagles with 16 kills on a .345 hitting percentage. First-year outside hitter Hannah Vanden Berg contributed 11 kills and seven digs. Senior Lauren Speckman dished a team-high 21 assists and seven digs. Junior Hope Werch neared a double-double with eight kills and a team-high 11 digs.

Seven Marquette players recorded at least one kill in the match.

“Everyone was definitely doing a really good job hitting today,” Barber said. “The setters did a great job of spreading it out and I think that just makes our team more difficult to defend when we have a nice spread offense like that.”

Mallory Potts led the Wildcats with 12 kills on a .524 clip. Emma Decker recorded a match-high 28 assists and Regan Lough ended with a match-high 12 digs. Allie Olsonoski and Sophia Howling combined for nine assisted blocks.

Barber earned recognition for being the 2019 BIG EAST Player of the Year. It was an unanimous vote. She also received the honor as a sophomore in 2017.

“It means a lot especially as a senior just a nice way to cap off my season here,” Barber said.

No. 12 Marquette (27-4, 16-2 BIG EAST) faces the winner of the Creighton and St. John’s semifinal match, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The championship match will take place at the Al McGuire Center Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

“We played Creighton just last week, so that’s still pretty fresh,” Theis said. “We would probably have to go a little bit back to the drawing board with some St. John’s stuff because we haven’t played them in over a month. We’ll watch this one with open eyes and see what either team is bringing.”

 

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