Friday afternoon, the Wildcats ventured out to Milwaukee to play the No. 12 ranked Marquette Golden Eagles for the second time in three weekends. The ‘Cats were hoping to find a better result as the two squads battled to earn a spot in the Big East Tournament final against either St. John’s or No. 10 Creighton. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they were swept in straight sets (22-25, 18-25, 19-25). In no way did the Wildcats put in an underwhelming performance on Friday. In fact, they played well on defense, and hit .310% for the match. At a certain point, however, their opponents’ depth at the hitter position allowed the Golden Eagles to make really impressive shots and win points, no matter who was on the floor. Golden Eagles’ senior outside hitter Allie Barber, the Big East Player of the Year, showed the quality that earned her that award with 16 kills and 2 blocks on the day.
In the first set, the Wildcats showed their capability to hang with their higher-seeded counterparts. Despite trailing most of the entire set, they closed it to 24-22 before a kill by Marquette’s outside hitter Ellie Koontz secured the set. While it was not quite enough, Wildcats’ senior libero Regan Lough’s nine digs in the set led a fierce defensive effort that characterized the ‘Cats valiant effort in the match.
Throughout the early stages of the second set, it looked as if this defensive effort by ‘Nova, along with senior setter Emma Decker’s metronomic distribution (28 assists), was going to lead them to a second set win. Villanova led all the way from 3-2 to 13-12, and then again at 14-13. While Lough was quieter in this set, sophomore middle hitter Sophia Howling had 3 blocks in the second frame. Despite the Wildcats’ effort, the Golden Eagles displayed why they are currently the 12th ranked team in the country, asserting themselves once again for a comfortable 25-18 victory in the second set. The Golden Eagles won five of the set’s last six points to take a command two sets to none lead. Koontz was especially impressive in this comeback, accumulating 5 kills despite subbing in and out multiple times.
Early in the third set, the Golden Eagles were threatening to run away and hide once again, and again won five of six points to get out to a 11-7 lead. However, major contributions by senior middle blocker/outside hitter Allie Olsonoski and junior outside hitter Mallory Potts helped their team tie the set at 13. Freshman middle blocker Kathleen Johnson made her presence felt off the bench to keep Villanova alive. The Wildcats hung around and kept the set tied until 16-16, but then began to make uncharacteristic mistakes that played a major role in sinking them. An errant touch on a serve shot that was going out by freshman Maddie Schieder and a wayward attempted set of a serve by sophomore Anna Morse gave the Golden Eagles some breathing room, as they secured the sweep with a 25-19 third set victory. Golden Eagles freshman outside hitter Hannah Vanden Berg (11 kills, 7 digs) was excellent all match, but came on especially strong in the third set with five of her kills and an ace helping to close the match.