After the first set on Saturday afternoon against Southern Illinois, some would have thought maybe the Salukis had the Bluejays number. Creighton came in with a 10-1 MVC record, their only loss coming to SIU. In that loss, the Bluejays had hurt their own success making errors they didn’t usually make. Saturday had the makings for another missed opportunity.
Southern Illinois went up early 6-1 in the first set. But the Bluejays rallied back to tie things at 11. SIU again took another five point lead to 16-11 before another Bluejay rally put them ahead. Back and forth they went with SIU staving off a set point and eventually taking the set 27-25. It setup the day for a dogfight between the two teams.
The second set was just as close, but you could see the Bluejays settling in. Kelli Browning had carried Creighton in the first set, but then her teammates got more involved. Leah McNary came on strong to help even the match with a 25-21 win.
“Megan and I have really been working on forcing the slides,” said Browning. “Once I was able to get a couple of kills and that opened things up for our outsides.”
As the third set came, Creighton turned this match into a Block Party. Browning, Megan Bober, Heather Thorson and Melanie Jereb were a wall against the SIU attack. The defense willed their way to a 25-23 victory in that set. For the match, the Bluejays had 19 kills, two shy of the program record.
“I really liked their fight,” said Bernthal Booth. “The third game was the difference in the match. [Southern Illinois] had the momentum. I think they were up 19-17 and I just felt like we fought and I like that we pulled that game out. That was huge and gave us momentum in the fourth.”
By the fourth set, Creighton had Southern Illinois on their heels jumping out to a 5-1 lead and everything came together for the Bluejays in that final stanza. Everyone contributed in that one with their twelve kills for the set split between five players to go along with 3 service aces and 4 blocks. The Bluejays left with a 25-18 win and a 3-1 victory in the match, defeating the only team that has beat them in conference play this season.
The victory was the eighth straight for the Jays, which is a program record. They are also sitting with 20 wins on the season, faster than any other previous Creighton squad. Overall, head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth thought despite the errors, it was a great match and proud of her team.
“Our blocking was outstanding,” said Bernthal Booth. “I’m pretty excited about the win. Southern Illinois is a really good team. Our serving was beyond abysmal. I think that disrupted us a lot as far as being able to get into a rhythm.”
Serving was the challenge for the Bluejays on Saturday as they had 15 service errors in the match, but it wasn’t a concern for Bernthal Booth.
“Southern didn’t serve well either. Southern Illinois is a very, very physical team. I thought we didn’t defend well early, but as the match progressed we played some good defense behind it. I told my players to feel good about this win tonight. “
Browning along with McNary, led the Bluejays with 14 kills each. Senior setter, Megan Bober, also had a solid night with 7 kills, 10 digs and 9 blocks. Bober surpassed 1000 digs in her career and is only the fourth player in program history to have 1000 digs and 1000 blocks in their career. She is excited about how this year is turning out.
“This has been a lot of fun. This has definitely been one of the fun seasons and fun group that I have ever been a part of.”
The win clinched a spot for the Bluejays in the MVC tournament at the end November in Springfield, Missouri. Now, however, they hit the road for four of their final six matches. This also includes matches against their rivals Missouri State, Wichita State and Northern Iowa. But it is one game at a time for the Bluejays and they aren’t looking ahead to the showdown in Cedar Falls next weekend.
“We take it one game at a time,” said Browning. “We take on Bradley first. So we will focus on that team first.”
“We lost to Bradley last year. That may be a positive for us that we need to be ready to go. Bradley is a good team,” said Bernthal Booth.