The Marquette women’s volleyball team kicked off the Big East season with a sweep of Syracuse last Saturday and improved to 10-3 on the season.
Most of those 10 wins, however, have come in the friendly confines of the Al McGuire Center. This weekend, the team hits the road for just the second time this season, taking on Notre Dame and DePaul.
“Any time you go on the road,” said coach Bond Shymansky, “those kind of matches are always challenging no matter who you play.”
Notre Dame, which won a pair of impressive five-set matches last weekend, poses a challenge to Marquette regardless of the game’s location. The Irish knocked off Cincinnati and No. 10 Louisville in an impressive opening weekend on the road.
DePaul (5-9) is unlikely to pose the same kind of threat as Notre Dame. The team has struggled so far in 2012 and opened Big East play with a pair of losses to Louisville and Cincinnati. It even fell to Eastern Illinois (3-12), which was possibly the worst team Marquette played in its non-conference schedule.
However, Shymansky says his team will address all Big East opponents similarly since he feels Marquette cannot afford to take any team for granted.
“There can’t be teams in our league that we think we’re just going to beat by showing up,” Shymansky said. “We have to bring our A game, give our best effort and see where it goes.”
Both the Irish and the Blue Demons boast dangerous and potent outside hitters who could cause problems for the Marquette defense.
Notre Dame’s Toni Alugbue recorded a career-high 26 kills against Cincinnati last weekend. The sophomore averages more than four kills per set and has earned Big East weekly honors for four consecutive weeks, including player of the week for her most recent performances.
For the Blue Demons, junior Vesela Zapryanova leads the way. She averages a team high 3.32 kills per set and takes a high volume of swings, nearly 500 total this year. She also has the ability to play effectively on the backline, as she is third on DePaul in digs in 2012.
Shymansky feels his team can handle players like Alugbue and Zapryanova because of the experience it gained from the non-conference season, playing against star outsides like Megan Birch of Pacific and Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Julie Kolinske.
“We’re capable of stopping an elite level player like that,” Shymansky said. “I like that we can adjust to fix it.”
For Marquette, a good offense might be the best defense against Zapryanova and Alugbue. The emergences of sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Gosh and junior setter Elizabeth Koberstein have eased some of the scoring load off of senior hitters Dani Carlson, Holly Mertens and Kelsey Mattai.
Gosh, the team’s points and kills leader so far in 2012, played club volleyball with Koberstein when they were in high school. Still, Gosh says the transition to working with her again took effort.
“I had to get used to her again,” Gosh said. “But we know each other and we know what we’re capable of doing. If I’m not putting the ball away, she’s always on me.”
Koberstein, who transitioned seamlessly to a new offensive system in the non-conference, started off Big East play with one of her best games of the season, averaging 13 assists per set against Syracuse. She credits Gosh for some of her early success.
“She and I have always had a pretty good connection,” Koberstein said. “Any setter loves to have a hitter that she knows can put the ball away. When the pass is there, I can set anybody I want and know it’s going to be down.”
For this weekend however, Koberstein feels it might take a little something extra for the Golden Eagles to come out on top.
“Playing away is not easy,” Koberstein said. “When you’re away, you have to have swagger. You have to know who you are going into someone else’s gym and going for the win.”