The Marquette women’s volleyball team battled for a pair of Big East victories over the weekend. On Friday night, Marquette knocked off Pittsburgh in four sets (25-22, 27-25, 23-25, 25-13). It followed that up with a Sunday afternoon win in a five-set grind (25-11, 31-29, 21-25, 18-25, 15-12) against South Florida, and improved to 14-3 on the season and 5-0 in conference play, good for first place after three weeks.
In both instances, the Golden Eagles faltered out of the intermission between sets two and three but were still able to fight back and win the match. Senior middle hitter Dani Carlson said team members knew they couldn’t let either match slip.
“We’re always motivated to get the win,” Carlson said. “Knowing that it’s so close to being in our hands, but yet it’s not in our hands, we realize that we just need to go after it.”
The Golden Eagles were on the verge of losing the USF match, which they controlled after two sets, when the team kicked it into gear in the fifth set to pull out its second straight victory in five set matches.
Shymansky said the team stopped enjoying volleyball in the third and fourth sets, something he preached to them before the deciding final frame.
“We talk about the three C’s within our program,” Shymansky said, “communication, covering your hitter and celebrating. All those things are about emotional energy.”
Marquette’s poor serving held it back against USF and almost cost them their first Big East defeat. It committed 21 service errors in the match, a performance Shymansky said he’d never seen out of his team before.
“This is the worst serving performance I’ve ever had as a head coach for any team,” Shymansky said. “That’s going to be a lot of practice reps. Serving is all mental preparation – there’s not a whole lot of technique involved. We made the mental preparation difficult tonight.”
A key for the team in the two matches was the balanced attack it showed among its hitters. In both matches, four Marquette hitters recorded double digit kills. Carlson, senior right side hitter Holly Mertens and freshman outside hitter Erin Lehman notched more than ten kills in both contests.
“We need balance,” Shymansky said. “Any great team in any sport has to have balance. You can’t rely on one player to win a team sport for you. We know that each night we may get different career highs from somebody or career lows from somebody, but as a team we can work through that.”
Against Pitt, senior middle hitter Kelsey Mattai recorded a career high 12 kills, hitting .857 on 14 swings. She credited great passes from junior setter Elizabeth Koberstein as a reason for her career-best performance.
“I felt really confident, and I was having a lot of fun,” Mattai said. “Bisky was dishing the ball, and we had a good connection. I have to give her a lot of the credit.”
Another key moment in the Pitt match came when sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Gosh landed awkwardly on her ankle in the second set. Gosh limped off but returned later in the set. Although she finished off the match and played on Sunday, she did not play her traditional full rotation role, which allowed junior outside hitter Casey Read and freshman defensive specialist Ellie Rauch to play longer.
“Ankle injuries are pretty common in volleyball,” Shymansky said. “She’ll get treated; she’ll be fine. I don’t have any problem with that.”
On Tuesday night, Marquette will play a rare non-conference match in the midst of the Big East season when it hosts Western Michigan. Shymansky is excited at the prospect of another high quality opponent coming into the Al McGuire Center, especially one that beat Marquette last season.
“We have a lot of revenge factor motivating us for this year,” Shymansky said. “We lost at their place last year on a Tuesday night just like this.”
Ultimately, the Golden Eagles just need to keep winning in order to solidify their spot atop the Big East standings.
“I don’t care how we get them,” Shymansky said. “We need to win, we need to keep on winning and we’re going to keep getting everybody’s best effort out there.”