Volleyball falls to red-hot St. John’s in BIG EAST Championship

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Photo by Jordan Johnson

St. John's Efrosini Alexakou (6) and Ariadni Kathariou (19) go up for a block against Marquette in the Red Storm's 3-1 victory at the Al McGuire Center. This is the first time since 2007 St. John's has won the BIG EAST Tournament title.

Jack Phillips

For the first time since 2014, Creighton was not the team hoisting the BIG EAST Championship trophy. Instead, it was fourth-seeded St. John’s, who took down No. 12 Marquette in four sets (25-20, 25-22, 19-25, 25-21) on the Golden Eagles’ home court.

The Red Storm’s first BIG EAST Championship title since 2007 comes less than 24 hours after upsetting the No. 10 Bluejays in straight sets Friday night.

“We’re really excited because we were a big underdog,” St. John’s head coach Joanne Persico said. “It’s something we’ll never forget.”

St. John’s controlled the opening set, jumping to a 7-3 lead and maintaining at least a three-point lead for the rest of the set. Marquette had an uncharacteristic 10 errors.

“They played six really good sets throughout the course of this weekend,” Marquette head coach Ryan Theis said. “We only played four.”

The Red Storm similarly took a 5-1 lead in the second frame, but Marquette battled back to tie it. Eventually, St. John’s took the second set 25-22.

“I thought they defended pretty well for both matches (in the tournament). They held Creighton under .100,” Theis said. “We outhit them efficiency-wise in (sets) two, three and four, but there was definitely some frustrated swings from our hitters.”

Marquette changed uniforms from “championship blue” to the same yellow Marquette wore in the win against then-No. 4 Wisconsin and improved its play in the third set.

The Golden Eagles quickly took a 7-4 advantage and never looked back in the third set, at one point going on a 6-0 run to take a 19-10 lead. They eventually won the set 25-19 despite a 5-0 St. John’s run.

“We needed a new team to come out,” Theis said. “I thought our crowd could get behind us if we didn’t start down 5-1. That’s what happened.”

Though MU had a 10-7 advantage in the fourth set, a 5-0 St. John’s run gave the Red Storm a 12-10 lead. Despite two lead changes and the Golden Eagles fighting off three match points, St. John’s secured a berth in the NCAA Tournament with a 25-21 fourth-set victory.

“Sure enough in game four, we started out a little bit slow,” Theis said. “The crowd never gets into it. (St. John’s is) never feeling the pressure, and they’re able to hold the lead for the whole time.”

BIG EAST Player of the Year Allie Barber led the way for the Golden Eagles with 23 kills on a .400 hitting percentage. Junior outside hitter Hope Werch finished with 17 kills and 13 digs. Senior setter Lauren Speckman dished a team-high 30 assists and added seven digs. Junior Martha Konovodoff ended with a team-high 14 digs.

Barber and Werch were also selected to the All-Tournament Team.

Efrosini Alexakou, who earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, led the Red Storm with 19 kills while Rachele Rastelli added 15. Erica Di Maulo recorded a match-high 45 assists while adding 10 digs and four kills. Klara Mikelova ended with a double-double of 11 kills and a match-high 18 digs.

“The setter put (Alexakou) in good positions, and I don’t think blocking is our strength anyway, but we have to serve a little bit better so they’re not taking those swings,” Theis said.

No. 12 Marquette (27-5, 16-2 BIG EAST) waits to find out where it will play until Sunday’s selection show at 7:30 p.m. If the committee gives MU a Top 16 spot, the Golden Eagles will host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.

The loss to an unranked St. John’s team jeopardizes Marquette’s chances of hosting.

Due to winning the 2019 BIG EAST Championship, the Red Storm, who has won seven of its last eight matches, receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Creighton, Marquette and St. John’s will represent the league in the NCAA Tournament, which begins Dec. 6.

“We’re all just running on adrenaline here,” Persico said. “I don’t know what day it is, I don’t know what time it is.”

 

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