On the road for their first game of the conference season, the Marquette women’s volleyball team faced its second straight five-set match. Yet again, the team dug deep and pulled out a victory, knocking off DePaul 26-28, 25-23, 25-18, 25-27, 15-9 Saturday to go to 1-0 in the new Big East.
“Our team is really starting to get our grittiness from practice,” said redshirt freshman middle hitter Meghan Niemann. “We’ve been having some really tough competitive practices that are bringing that out in all of us. We have a more go-getter feel and really get after it in the fifth set.”
Coach Bond Shymansky felt differently about this win than he did about Marquette’s narrow five-set victory over Illinois State at the Al McGuire Center Wednesday. He commended his team for bearing down to win in its opponent’s gym.
“We’re clearly prepared at this point to be in tight situations and still play good volleyball,” he said. “On the road it’s extra difficult. DePaul had a nice crowd and they are on a hot streak. They were playing with a lot more confidence than we were at that point … we were able to find an extra gear.”
The statistics from the game were staggering. Freshman outside hitter Autumn Bailey racked up a career-high 29 kills and also added eight digs. Freshman outside hitter Nele Barber posted a career-high with 18 kills of her own. As a result, senior setter Elizabeth Koberstein delivered a career-best 69 assists and the team hit a season-best .387.
“Finally, it’s starting to all click and all come together where we can get confidence,” Niemann said. “(Elizabeth) is dishing out some really good sets that can help us accomplish that.”
Niemann added 14 kills (hitting .476) and seven blocks. Shymansky said he loves seeing freshmen step up and carry the team, since it adds to their versatility.
“It’s great that we can have players step up when we need them to, even when there’s a lull in performance across the net,” Shymansky said. “Ideally, what we want to have is for everyone to hit well and everyone to have the confidence to get kills in those moments.”
Niemann enjoys being a part of the offensive rotation, where each hitter can lead the team on any given night.
“It’s a really cool experience,” she said. “We’ve had a different kill leader almost every game … it’s been great to see that distributed through almost every hitter on the court.”
That rotation has been recently bolstered by Shymansky’s insertion of Barber into the second outside hitter spot in place of sophomore Erin Lehman. At points in Saturday’s victory, Barber provided an unstoppable force from the left side to counteract Bailey and junior right side hitter Lindsey Gosh. Shymansky credits that immediate improvement to her international experience before college.
“Nele is unflappable,” he said. “She has played in bigger, tighter, more difficult situations than this. Playing for her country, playing in international tournaments against other country’s top teams. Playing against professional teams when she was with the German junior national team … it doesn’t faze her, it doesn’t bother her. That steadiness plays a big part the longer the match goes.”
Shymansky hopes Barber’s steadiness will become infectious, as consistency will play a major role in Marquette’s Big East title hopes.
“I think we could have won 3-0 as easily as we could have lost 3-0 in that match,” he said. “It was tight. I like that our group is finding a way to stay composed even when the moments are tight.”