SEASON PREVIEW: Volleyball remains optimistic in 2021 despite underwhelming 2020-21 season

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Taylor Wolf (10) sets a pass in Marquette’s 3-0 win over Iowa State Feb. 27. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

After a season of not being in the NCAA Volleyball Tournament, placing third in the BIG EAST and with no fans in the stands, the Marquette volleyball team is coming back this season with everyone ready to be playing their best when it matters most.

The Golden Eagles come into the season not ranked for the first time since 2019. However, Marquette did receive 27 votes in the Top 25 of the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association Preseason Coaches’ Poll making their unofficial ranking just out of the Top 25.

“I definitely think we have a chip on our shoulder, and I think everyone wants the BIG EAST Championship and that’s obviously our goal moving forward,” redshirt sophomore Hannah Vanden Berg said.

With an extra year of eligibility given to all athletes who played last season due to COVID-19 Marquette was able to have Taylor Wolf, Savannah Rennie, Hope Werch and Kaitlyn Lines all return for another year.

“We’ve got all of our returners coming back, and I think that’s super cool that we’re able to build off of last year,” redshirt junior Katie Schoessow said.

For Schoessow, Wolf and some of their teammates, it will be their first time playing a regular season game in front of Marquette’s home crowd in almost two years.

“It’s going to be fun because I know they (Marquette) get a lot of fans here and it’s a bigger atmosphere, so I’m just excited to play against big teams with a big crowd,” Wolf said.

Those big home games this season include playing defending national champions in No. 3 Kentucky in the home opener Sept. 11, in-state rival No. 2 Wisconsin Sept. 12 and BIG EAST rival Creighton Oct. 29. 

Outside hitters

When it comes to the outside hitters,  head coach Ryan Theis has lots of options.

Wolf and Vandenberg led the team in kills last season with 144 and 124 respectively. With those two back and Werch in her fifth season at Marquette, Theis’ unit will be experienced.

“Hope’s versatility to go left and right is helpful, it allows us to put other people in positions of strength,” Theis said.

Theis mentioned first-year Jenn Reitsma will see time as well.

Middle blockers

As for the middle blockers, Rennie comes into the season as the most experienced out of the five middles.

Rennie, an All-BIG EAST Preseason Team selection, is coming off a season where she led the team in blocks with 51 and was named to the All-BIG EAST First Team.

Redshirt first-year Carsen Murray and redshirt sophomore Claire Nuessmeier also return to the unit.

Redshirt first-year Anatsija Svetnik and first-year Hattie Bray join the unit. Svetnik, the Oregon State transfer, had 85 kills, 45 blocks, 11 aces and 30 digs in the PAC-12 last season.

“It’s interesting, we (the coaching staff) talk about it every day, if you ask me to rank our middles one through five, it changes daily, and with some bright spots,” Theis said.

Having players who are all a little different leads to the team having unique looks and schemes for each opponent, it’s just up to Theis to figure out how and when he wants to use different players.

“It’s like a Swiss Army knife: You just have to pick which one,” Theis said.

Defensive specialists

Along with Schoessow, Theis said redshirt sophomore Carly Skrabak have both been stabilizing forces in Marquette’s defense.

“Their experience level is just a little bit greater than the others,” Theis said.

First-years Jadyn Garrison and Samantha Naber present a different option for Theis at the position.

“Athletically, Sam and Jayden are really fast, they’re dynamic and they’re quick back there. It adds a little bit of athleticism to the defensive group,” Theis said.

As for redshirt sophomore Megan Lund, Theis said due to her ability to serve she’ll potentially see some time on the floor this season.

“Lund’s got a great serve, so she might be used for that,” Theis said. “You’ll see bits and pieces from all of them throughout the year.”

Setter

Redshirt junior Claire Mosher has the starting setter spot locked up, Theis said.

“Claire’s had a really good camp and she’s going to play whether it’s three rotations or six rotations and so from there that’s the part we have to figure out,” Theis said.

Mosher is coming off a season where she played in all 51 sets and 14 matches while also leading the team with 280 assists at a rate of 5.49 per set.

While in recent seasons Marquette, has had two setters on the court, playing in a 6-2 formation, Theis said there is still the potential for them to play with one setter in a 5-1 formation.

“We, at times, only use one setter, the last several years we’ve used two but we could go to a one setter system this year, and so Taylor’s back in the gym getting some setting stuff and so we’ll see,” Theis said.

This story was written by Ben Schultz. He can be reached at benjamin.a.schultz@marquette.edu or on Twitter @BenSchultz52.