Marquette prepares for weekend against No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 8 Kentucky

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Hope Werch (8) completes a kill in Marquette’s 3-2 win over Wisconsin Sept. 5. (Marquette Wire Stock Photo.)

Marquette volleyball will have a tough test during its first homestand of the 2021 fall season to stay undefeated.

The Golden Eagles will return home after six road games to host No. 8 Kentucky and in-state rival No. 2 Wisconsin Saturday and Sunday respectively.

For Marquette, it will be the first time in 650 days that fans will be back in the stands at the Al McGuire Center. The last time being the 2019 BIG EAST Championship Game vs St. John’s.

“I’m really excited about having fans back,” graduate student outside hitter Hope Werch said. “Last semester we were just allowed to have our parents there, which was great but obviously having the students, the band coming back is super exciting. Just the feeling of the Al McGuire center with a whole stadium, it’s hard to beat it.”

Redshirt first-year middle blocker Carsen Murray said she is excited to experience the Al with the hometown faithful, especially for Sunday’s rivalry game vs Wisconsin.

“The in-state rivalry is probably something I’m most excited for,” Murray said. “I know Wisconsin is probably looking for revenge because last time that we played them we won. (Though) I wasn’t on the team then but I remember watching that game and that was awesome. I’m excited for it.”

Veterans like graduate student Savannah Rennie are used to playing in big games and moments. Before transferring to MU prior to last season from Cal, Rennie played against Stanford.

“Playing them every year, I know what it’s like. It’s so riveting and why we are our here for these matches,” Rennie said. “These are the weekends we look forward to.”

Theis said for his team to come out of the weekend 2-0, it will come from their first contact.

“First contact, serve and pass, it’s a pretty big volleyball cliché but it’s reality, but if we can out serve and pass either of them we’ll have a chance to be in it. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been successful in the previous years” Theis said. “We’re going to have to slow down balls and block touches. You gotta slow it down to give our defenders to have a chance.”

No. 8 Kentucky, Sept. 11 6:00 p.m. CST

Come Saturday night, it will be the fifth time that Marquette and Kentucky will faceoff all-time. The Wildcats lead the all-time series 1-3.

In the last matchup in 2017, Kentucky came out with the 3-1 victory.

MU’s lone win came in 2016 when they won 3-1 their own.

Then redshirt sophomore Taylor Louis recorded a double-double with 20 kills and 16 digs. Then senior setter Sara Blasier dished out 40 assists and had nine digs, while then classmate Lauren Houg collected 21 digs.

While Kentucky entered the season as the reigning national champions, the team looks different.

The team lost four seniors, including two starters in setter Madison Lilley and outside hitter Avery Skinner. Lilley was the team leader in assists and second in digs, while Skinner was second in kills behind current senior Alli Stumler. The Wildcats also lost libero and digs leader Gabby Curry.

Theis said he added the Wildcats to his teams non-conference schedule prior to their national championship run because of the challenges that they bring as a team to an opponent.

“It’s a good RPI game, good experience, tough opponent, very athletic, so we’re hoping to be a formidable opponent” Theis said.

Key Players: 

  • First-year Emma Grome is off to a strong start with the Kentucky. The Loveland, Ohio native is already leading the Wildcats in assists with 185. Grome has had 30 or more assists in every match this year except in Kentucky’s lone loss to the No. 19 Creighton where she had 20.
  • Outside hitter Alli Stumler is only one of three seniors on this Wildcat team. On the team, she is second on the team in kills with 61 and earned AVCA First Team All-American honors last year .
  • Werch will be an important part of Coach Theis’ plan for victory. The Neenah, Wisconsin native just made history last week as she reached the 1,000 kill milestone, as well as becoming the first player in Marquette history to reach 1,000 kills, 1,000 digs and 150 service aces in a career.
  • Graduate student Taylor Wolf is the team leader in kills, tied for first in assists and tied for first in digs for MU.

How To Follow: 

  • Watch: BIG EAST DIGITAL NETWORK
  • Twitter Updates: @JacksonGrossMU and @MUWireSports

No. 2 Wisconsin, Sept. 12, 4:30 p.m. CST

For the first time since 2019, Marquette and Wisconsin will face off as last year’s game was canceled due to COVID-19.

In that matchup in Madison, the Golden Eagles came from behind to defeat the Badgers in five-sets. The win marked a historic one for team in blue and gold as it was the first time MU defeated UW.

Then No. 11 Marquette was led by Allie Barber who had 22 kills followed by Werch and redshirt senior outside hitter Kaitlyn Lines who both had 17 kills. Lines also had nine digs of her own.

“(I’m) sweaty because it was warm in there, I’m hungry, because it was a three hour match and I’m proud of the team,” Theis said immediately after the game to the Marquette Wire in 2019. “They’re a great group to be down 0-2 on the road. I just couldn’t be happier for them. … They’re a hardworking group and it’s terrific to watch.”

Last season Wisconsin made it to the Final Four before losing to Texas. The Badgers bring back five players from last season’s Final Four team — Dana Rettke, Sydney Hilley, Lauren Barnes, Grace Loberg and Giorgia Civita — due to the COVID extra year of eligibility.

The Badgers lost Molly Haggerty from last year’s team as she decided to start her professional career.

While the Badgers lost Haggerty they brought in two players in Joslyn Boyer and Julia Orzol.

Boyer transferred from Iowa and has played in all four matches this year. The junior plays libero and is a defensive specialist. Meanwhile Julia Orzol is first-year outside hitter from Poland. In Wisconsin’s win over then No. 10 Baylor Aug. 28, had a season and career high 12 kills.

The Badgers are 4-0 on the season, including the notable win over Baylor.

Despite the Golden Eagles winning the last match in the instate rivalry, the all-time series hasn’t been favorable for Marquette. In the last six matchups, Wisconsin is 1-5 against MU. Meanwhile, the Badgers lead the all-time series 20-2.

The instate matchup between two of the better teams in their respective conferences hasn’t always been favorable for Marquette. Marquette vs Wisconsin hasn’t always been a regularly scheduled match as there have only been six ever matchups between the two schools, with Marquette being 1-5 in those matches.

Players to watch

  • Rettke is a four-time AVCA First-Team All-American selection. Through four games this year, she has 40 kills while hitting .364 and 17 total blocks. In 2019 vs Marquette, Rettke had 22 kills while hitting .455 and also added eight total blocks.
  • Middle blocker Devyn Robinson earned a 2020 AVCA Third-Team All-American honors. This season she has 33 kills while hitting .315 with five total blocks.
  • Graduate student Sydney Hilley leads the Badgers in assists. The two-time AVCA First-Team All-American has 155 assists at a clip of 11.92 per set this year. In 2019 Hilley had 59 assists in the match against Marquette.

How To Follow: 

  • Watch: FS1
  • Twitter Updates: @benschultz52 and @MUWireSports

This story was written by Jackson Gross and Ben Schultz. They can be reached at jackson.gross@marquette.edu and benjamin.a.schultz@marquette.edu or on Twitter @JacksonGrossMU and @benschultz52.