Nearly everyone returns from the spring to attempt to restart the Golden Eagles’ NCAA tournament streak.
Let’s take a break from soccer previewing, shall we?
So far, we’ve only been talking about the men’s and women’s soccer teams in terms of fall previews for Marquette athletics. That was a function of time, though. Have to preview the women’s season before the season actually starts, right? Yesterday, though, we started talking about men’s soccer because we have to get that going before they start….. but we also have to get some volleyball previewing in! The Marquette volleyball season starts the day after the men’s soccer season, so we’ll be alternating back and forth over the next few days.
Let’s get started, just like we did for soccer, by talking about the players that are coming back from the spring 2021 season for head coach Ryan Theis this fall…..
We have to start with Hope Werch, who elected to return to Marquette this fall for her COVID-bonus season of eligibility. The 2017 Big East Freshman of the Year has turned into one of the best players in the conference since then, earning all-league recognition in each of the past two seasons. The best part about that is that Werch is doing it without being statistically dominant. She was just third on the team in the spring in kills at 2.37 per set and third in points at 2.98/set. Werch will get you an ace at least once a match on average, and she’ll help on the back line as well, finishing third on the team (again) in digs at 2.39/set in the spring. She’s not a dominant force at the net, always averaging somewhere between 0.30 and 0.41 in blocks per set for her career. All of this adds up, though, and the Big East coaches respect what she provides the Golden Eagles every single night.
Let’s turn our attention to Hannah Vanden Berg, who was Marquette’s leader amongst pure outside hitters in kills per set in the spring at 2.43. The redshirt sophomore was thrust into a primary role in her first season on campus back in 2019 due to injuries elsewhere on the roster and immediately showed that she can contribute. 2.04 kills per set and 1.50 digs as well turned into 2.43 and 1.27 in the spring season as it appears Theis altered how he was using her on the floor. Vanden Berg’s hitting percentage dropped precipitously from her freshman year to her second season, going from .253 to .214, but between roster and lineup changes, altered practice schedules due to the pandemic, and a short 14 match season, perhaps all of that gets ironed out this fall.
The biggest question mark amongst the returning outside hitters is Kaitlyn Lines. She was a concussive force when she debuted in a Marquette uniform in the fall of 2019, averaging 2.57 kills/set while hitting .243 and was a big reason why the Golden Eagles scored back-to-back upsets of two top 10 teams. And then she suffered a knee injury that took her out for the rest of the season after just 16 matches. A full year off might not have been enough to recover all the way, as Lines averaged just 2.04 kills/set in the spring season and hit just .182. We’re now coming up on two full years since Lines suffered her season ending injury, so the question becomes how much of her production drop-off in the spring was a result of not being 100% back and how much was the injury just permanently robbing her of that extra little bit of jumping ability that made the 6-foot tall Arizona native so imposing against BYU and Wisconsin. If it was just the pandemic hampering her rehab, perhaps this summer gave her a chance to get all the way back.
That leaves us one final hitter to talk about, and I actually kind of feel bad about making this sound like I’m being dismissive of Ellie Koontz. The 6’1” redshirt junior from Minneapolis was a bit player as a freshman, and then began to take on a bigger role in 2019 as Theis dealt with figuring out his rotation after Lines suffered her injury. It looked like big things were coming for Koontz…. but that never materialized in the spring. She had what could easily be called her worst season for the Golden Eagles, playing in just five of MU’s 14 contests and averaging just 0.62 kills/set. It should be noted that she hit a raucous .412 when she did actually play, so it’s clear that Koontz was giving her all every time she hit the court. There just wasn’t much of that time, and with the spring roster’s primary contributors all back for another go this fall, I don’t know how much of that will change in Koontz’s favor across a full fall season.
When you have a player that’s splitting their time fairly evenly between playing hitter and playing setter, you can’t really put her into either category. Either you end up talking about one part in the wrong section or you end up distracting from impressing upon the reader exactly how much she’s doing for the team. That’s the explanation as to why Taylor Wolf is getting her own section in this preview, and I absolutely wish I had a better header title than The Bridge. I was tempted to go with The Wolf to be honest, but that sounded silly in my head. If you have a cool nickname for her, please pipe up in the comments.
Anyway, the point of the story is that Taylor Wolf is great. Even while not playing outside hitter full-time, she still led Marquette in kills in the spring to the tune of 2.82 per set. When she wasn’t crushing passes from Claire Mosher, Wolf was handing them out, wrapping up the spring with a 5.02/set average in assists. In her free time, she came in second on the team in digs at 3.08/set, and was third on the squad in blocks at 0.63/set, too. Honestly, the blocks thing might be most impressive since she was doing so much back line work to get all those digs. All of this is why Wolf was a two-time Player of the Year in the Horizon League when she was with Green Bay, and it’s absolutely why Ryan Theis brought her in to help power the Golden Eagles’ attack. 2020 was supposed to be her senior season, so she’s back for her extra season of eligibility this fall, so it should be fun to see what she does as an encore.
I just mentioned Claire Mosher a second ago, so obviously she’s the first setter that we have to talk about here. The spring season was her first as a primary setting option for Marquette after getting bits of playing time in 2018 and subbing in for an injured Lauren Speckman in 2019. Her partnership with Sarah Rose back in MU’s last full fall season was a good preview for what Mosher could do, and she lived up to that in the spring. She led MU in assists while in a timeshare with Taylor Wolf at setter, handing out 5.49 assists per set. The 5’10” Waterloo, Wisconsin native also chipped in 2.00 digs/set while playing in a career high 51 sets in the spring. The fact that Mosher played more in MU’s very short spring season than she did in either of her two previous seasons and very nearly beat out the two of them together — 60 to 51 — tells you a lot about how much Marquette depended on Mosher to develop into a legitimate setter option in the spring. I think it’s safe to say it worked out, as she committed just one ball handling error the whole time. It’ll be more of the same for Mosher this fall in terms of expectations at the very least.
There’s not much to say about Caroline Dragani in terms of previewing here, and even less for Ella Foti. Dragani transferred in to Marquette in December of 2020, so she was a late addition to the roster before the spring season started. Between that and what Marquette already had in Wolf and Mosher, you can’t be surprised that she played in just four sets all season long. Quite honestly, unless Wolf transitions to a full-time hitter in Theis’ scheme, I don’t see how Dragani gets on the floor much more than she did in the spring. I’m pretty sure the plan was for Foti to not play at all in the spring, and that’s what happened. To be quite honest, the 6-foot tall Madison native was a Class of 2021 recruit for the Golden Eagles and elected to graduate high school early and enroll at Marquette for the spring semester. Thus, officially, she’s returning from the spring’s roster but she only practiced with the team and has yet to make her collegiate debut. As is the case with Dragani, Marquette has a locked in setter rotation with Mosher and Wolf, and it’ll take some sort of alteration to that plan for Foti to play more than mop up duties this season.
We can not say enough about Savannah Rennie on these digital pages. The fact that the San Diego native even played volleyball in the spring for Marquette is enough of a medical marvel to celebrate. Rennie had already been through a liver transplant, post-transplant lymphoma, and a torn ACL before she transferred to play for the Golden Eagles, and then she turned in an all-Big East caliber performance and earned AVCA All-Region honors in the middle of a pandemic on top of that. She averaged 2.12 kills per set along with roughly a service ace per match and a team high block per set. That’s all fantastic stuff…. and she did that with her medically granted super senior year of eligibility after spending five school years at Cal. And now she’s back. She’s going through another semester of grad school at Marquette for one final swing at college volleyball when literally every single person in the world would say “Savannah, we will all respect you if you walked away after all of that.” All the respect in the world for her, and I hope that Marquette gets their NCAA tournament streak restarted to make it all worth it for her.
Rennie was one of two middles to play in every set in the spring for Marquette, and Claire Nuessmeier was the other. After appearing in just seven sets for the entire 2019 season, Ryan Theis dropped Nuessmeier out there in the starting lineup for every match of the spring season and she knocked it out of the park as far as I’m concerned. 1.31 kills per set to go along with 0.76 blocks per set as well along with a .294 hitting percentage is about all you can really ask from a middle blocker, and I’m looking forward to seeing how much further the 6’2” Minnesota native can go.
Carsen Murray is the third and final returning middle for the Golden Eagles, and if I tell you she was a freshman in the spring, then you probably know everything you need to know about her season. With Rennie and Nuessmeier holding it down for the Golden Eagles, Marquette did not really need anything from Murray and Theis didn’t ask much from her. 11 sets in seven matches with three kills on five swings along with two assisted blocks. This fall will be her redshirt freshman season since the spring was a free year in terms of eligibility, and we’ll see how much the coaching staff looks to get her in the lineup to be ready to play a big role down the road.
I think it’s safe to say that Katie Schoessow will be pulling on the libero jersey for Marquette this fall. The 5’6” Mukwonago product stepped into the role after Martha Konovodoff graduated in the fall of 2020 and performed admirably. She led the team in digs at 4.53/set while playing in every set in every match and chipped in nearly an ace per match on average, although four against St. John’s in the Big East tournament did an awful lot of heavy lifting to get her to that average. Schoessow did exactly what you want from a libero in the spring, so there’s no reason to think that Theis and his staff are going to be changing things up this fall.
With that said, I actually didn’t realize how much Carly Skrabak contributed in the spring until I started putting this preview together. Only six players averaged at least a dig per set, and the 5’6” transfer from Tennessee Tech was one of them. Skrabak missed just two sets all season while appearing in all 14 matches, as she essentially stepped into the role that Schoessow played next to Konovodoff back in 2019. More of the same, please!
Megan Lund wraps up the department here. After being with the team as a manager in 2019, Theis brought the California native on board the actual roster for the spring as a depth addition. Lund ended up playing in five different matches, which doesn’t sound like much, but it is more than a third of MU’s spring season. I presume that she’ll have roughly the same role this season.