Top 10 games of Ryan Theis’ tenure

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Photo by Katerina Pourliakas

Allie Barber (10) attempts a block in Marquette’s sweep over Seton Hall Sept. 27, 2019. Barber is the all-time leader in kills in program history.

Head women’s volleyball coach Ryan Theis is entering his seventh season with the Golden Eagles, and in those seven seasons, he has had his fair share of success. In the current span, Theis is already second in program history in wins, with 147. He is trailing Tat Shiely, who has 380. Sitting at 73.5%, Theis also has the highest winning percentage of any volleyball head coach.

Here are the top 10 games of his head coaching career with the Golden Eagles:

September 9, 2016: Marquette beats Kentucky 3-1

Starting off the list is the second game of the 2016 Bluegrass Battle between Marquette and Kentucky. Then-redshirt sophomore Taylor Louis  had an excellent day as she recorded her third double-double of the season with a season-best 20 kills and 16 digs, which matched a career high. Then-redshirt senior Meghan Niemann  was also stellar offensively with 11 kills and four blocks.

Theis remembered the match as a “hot mess,” but not in the way that most would think.

“They had no air conditioning in that building, so playing in Kentucky in September, there is sweat all over Tera Flex  (and) there’s towel wiping going on. I remember it being a tough match,” Theis said. “The biggest memory for me was that we were wearing championship blue and everyone was absolutely gross, covered in sweat.”

August 25, 2017: Golden Eagles upset No. 20 Hawaii

The Golden Eagles were able to take down the Rainbow Wahine in five sets. Then-sophomore outside hitter Allie Barber led the team with 22 kills, then-sophomore setter Lauren Speckman had a career-high 50 assists. Then-redshirt junior middle blocker Jenna Rosenthal contributed 10 kills and nine blocks.

Theis said the match was enjoyable because the squad had nine new players in the program and the environment of the match was memorable.

“(Hawaii) essentially sell out every game and they scheduled us first because we were probably the most beatable team in their opinion there,” Theis said. “It was their new head coach’s first game and she’s a legendary player at Hawaii, Robin Ah Mow. … We were off to a pretty big lead in game one and then everyone freaked out. We were losing bad in game four.”

Since the team was losing set four, Theis wanted to get then-junior Abby Julian a serve, so if she served in game five she wouldn’t be as nervous. However, Julian had barely played in her first two years.

After scoring six straight points in game five, Julian would help the Golden Eagles seal the win with three consecutive points as Rosenthal and Barber earned the match-winning point with a block.

Speckman, who was a sophomore at the time, said that this game was the ‘scariest’ moment for her at Marquette, citing her new role on the team.

December 6, 2019: Team sweeps Dayton in first round of NCAA Tournament 

The most recent tournament win for Theis is next on the list. It was another tournament sweep for the Golden Eagles, as they beat the Flyers by scores of 25-23, 25-19 and 25-22.

Barber led the team with 17 kills and junior Hope Werch connected on 11 kills. Speckman dished out 24 assists and then junior Sarah Rose added 15 assists of her own.

Speckman was glad that her last win at Marquette was a “good, clean win.”

“That was a great game in the sense that it was my last win at Marquette,” Speckman said. “We were on a roll and I remember feeling like we were gonna get that Sweet 16 again. If we played the way we did against Dayton against Purdue, I feel that we could have done it.”

October 19, 2019: Barber breaks all-time kill record against Georgetown

While this game was not close, with Marquette winning in four sets, this game was still a historic one in the Theis era.

Barber broke the all-time kill record for Marquette women’s volleyball with her first kill of the night. Barber would go on to add 21 more kills, Speckman contributed with 33 assists and Martha Konovodoff added 16 digs.

Theis remembers trying to get Barber the first kill of the match after she had tied the record at DePaul. He said he spoke with the official and then-Georgetown head coach Toby Rens, and had said to hold the whistle after Barber’s first kill of the evening, in order for the crowd and her teammates to celebrate the accomplishment. However, according to Theis, things did not go according to plan.

“We start the game and Allie hits the ball 20 feet out of bounds. She looks over at me and she’s like, ‘oh man.’ So then something happens and she hits another one out of bounds, and I think it took three points for her to finally get a kill,” Theis said. “The ref forgot, and real quick she catches herself and blows the whistle again and stops play so we can acknowledge Allie’s achievement.”

September 4, 2015: MUVB survives against Northern Iowa to move to second round of NCAA Tournament

The first NCAA Tournament win for Theis came in his second year, against the Northern Iowa Panthers in five sets. Then-redshirt junior Sara Blasier set a school record in the NCAA Tournament with 51 assists and added in 11 digs. Louis led the way with 26 kills.

While Rosenthal does not remember everything about this match, she remembers how she felt after taking home the win.

“I don’t remember this one so specifically, but I do recall a sense of pride following a hard fought victory,” Rosenthal said in an email. “The prize of playing Minnesota (in the next game), a team with a lot of players I often tried to imitate, was really awesome.”

August 26, 2016: Marquette beats No. 7 University of Southern California

In the first match of Barber’s career at Marquette she contributed six kills. After the team dropped the first set, the Golden Eagles won the next three to upset No. 7 USC on their home court. It would be the first of back-to-back years where Theis’ squad beat a top-25 team on opening day.

A first-year at the time, Speckman remembers this being one of the scariest but best moments in her time at Marquette.

“That USC game was my second scariest moment playing at Marquette just because of how new I was,” Speckman said. “Being from California, my dad is a UCLA grad so we aren’t necessarily the biggest USC fans, so it was (a) good welcome into the program.”

September 19, 2014: Marquette tops No. 7 Florida in Gainesville

The Golden Eagles won in Gainesville, Florida in five sets, winning the last set 15-13. A Niemann kill gave the Golden Eagles the victory in the fifth set. MU trailed 10-9 in the fifth before three straight points gave the Golden Eagles the cushion they would need to finish off the Gators.

While she did not play, Rosenthal remembers that moment fondly.

“All I remember was a court rush after the final ball fell. I was redshirted that year, so I did all I could to cheer the team on from the sidelines,” Rosenthal said. “I remember thinking something along the lines of, ‘oh man, I’ve found a special place where we can make waves with the big guys.'”

August 31, 2019: Golden Eagles beat N0. 9 BYU on the road

In arguably the toughest environment to play in,  Theis’ squad picked a big win early in the 2019 season against BYU. It was the third win against a top 10 team in program history, all of which have come under Theis. Barber led the way with 19 kills, then-junior Kaitlyn Lines had 17 and Werch added 11.

Speckman described the atmosphere in Provo.

“Their fans were insane. They had all these spinning things that they would spin around and it looked like you were going into a hypostasis kind of a thing,” Speckman said. “It was loud, it was amazing.”

September 1, 2018: Volleyball advances to first Sweet 16 in program history

Not only did the Golden Eagles sweep the Bearcats in three sets, they got to host a NCAA Tournament game at the Al McGuire Center. Barber led with a match-high 18 kills, while Werch connected for eight kills. Speckman handed out 21 assists to lead the Golden Eagles. Rosenthal had a team-high 11 blocks.

“Being able to have two more home games in my senior season was an invaluable gift. This game was also a ton of fun because they had Jordan Thompson, a super high-level opposite, and a strong contender to represent USA in the upcoming Olympic Games,” Rosenthal said. “Taking care of a high-level player and taking the victory together as a team was so special, and the feeling was indescribable moving into the Sweet 16.”

September 5, 2019: MU upsets in-state rival N0. 4 Wisconsin in Madison

After beating BYU the previous Saturday, Marquette went into the UW Field House and won in a five set comeback against the highest ranked team that any of Theis’ squads had ever beaten. It also marked the first time Marquette had ever beat Wisconsin in program history.

After falling behind 2-0 in the match, Marquette fought hard in the third and fourth frames, fending off multiple match point attempts from the Badgers. Marquette then trailed 4-1 in the fifth set, but closed out the match on a 14-5 run.

Theis said the team was motivated to beat Wisconsin, and it took a lot of determination to do so.

“We play them in the spring, we play them in the fall, we played them in the NCAA Tournament to try to advance in rounds and every time, Wisconsin had gotten the slight advantage over us,” Theis said. “We were itching to get a win in the fall … It was a fun, long match.”

This story was written by Jackson Gross. He can be reached at jackson.gross@marquette.edu or on Twitter @jacksongross6.