The Creighton volleyball team returns for home matches this weekend after almost a month on the road. After leaving Omaha with a 1-3 record, Kirsten Bernthal Booth’s team has rebounded to win six of eight matches and move to 7-5. The Bluejays’ recent hot streak includes three-set sweeps of Southern Illinois and Evansville last weekend, which has the team off to a 2-0 start in Missouri Valley Conference play.
During that time, on the road, Booth learned a lot about her team and is encouraged by their success:
“I think we have improved a lot when it comes to winning. Early in the season we lost some close games. I think we have gotten a lot better in end-game situations. I think other people are stepping up offensively. I thought Alicia [Runge] would carry part of the load early and now some other people are helping out, which is good. I have always felt that we were a good passing and defensive team. After the Toledo loss we turned around to play Marquette and rebounded and probably played our best match that night.”
This weekend’s homestand won’t start easily. Friday night, the Bluejays take on preseason favorite and #16 Northern Iowa at Sokol Arena. Both are 2-0 in the standings. However, the looming story surrounding this matchup is Northern Iowa’s consistent success against the Bluejays. The Panthers are 35-3 against Creighton and are 16-1 against the Bluejays in Omaha. At the same time, Creighton is 1-39 all time against ranked opponents. Their first win against a ranked opponent came last season at Sokol against Wichita State. Middle blocker and MVC Defensive Player of the Week Laurel Sanford hopes the home court advantage will help them this year against nationally ranked UNI.
“After starting the conference 2-0, it has given us a lot of confidence to play. Going into this weekend against Northern Iowa and Bradley, we are excited with our start. I’m pumped.”
Sanford is back from an ankle injury she suffered in the opening match of the season against San Francisco. The injury kept Sanford out for more than a week, but she has come back strong with great play at the invitational in Milwaukee and during the opening weekend of conference play.
“Some days I feel better than others. It depends on if I actually tweak it in practice, but no matter what I’m going to play. I’m a competitive person and I don’t care if I tweak it, I’m going to ice it and get it better and play the next day.”
One difference you might see this weekend from the Bluejays is a new libero. Freshman Julianne Mandolfo was named to the position last weekend while normal libero Nayka Benitez sat out for unspecified reasons. Don’t be surprised to see Mandolfo in the libero jersey again this weekend. Coach Booth is excited to have two great players competing for the position.
“I think they are fighting for the position. We are fortunate that we have two phenomenal kids that are fortunately really great friends and they are fighting for the spot.”
The focus of the weekend appears to be on Northern Iowa, but the Bluejays will turn around and take on Bradley on Saturday. The Braves come in at 4-8 overall and 0-2 in conference play. Although the Braves were picked to finish last in the league, Booth knows that every match and every team is tough once you get to this level.
“I’ve learned through the ups and downs of the league that you can win against everybody and you can lose against everybody. When I was at the junior college level, you could see some teams that were flat out bad and teams that were awesome. At the Division I level, every team can beat you if you don’t play up to par. So as coaches we try to make sure we approach those equally. I think sometimes that is a challenge for players since they will be pretty amped for playing a top 20 team on Friday night. I almost like that we are playing Bradley second so we can re-focus our team as compared to have them looking to Saturday night. Every match counts equally in the conference standings, so we have to have the mentality that both matches are the match of the year.”
The volleyball team is on a roll right now, and this weekend offer Creighton fans a great opportunity to come down to Sokol and welcome back the Bluejays from a successful road trip. Afterward, you can walk over to Morrison Stadium to watch the #16 Bluejays men’s soccer team host Wisconsin.
A large crowd is expected for Friday night’s match against Northern Iowa as well as the men’s soccer team’s game against the Badgers, so get there early. The volleyball match begins at 6:00 p.m., and it is a BLUE OUT on campus … so make sure you wear your (White &) Blue!
Grab the kids and show up early for the school-sponsored “Getting Blue” event, which runs from 4:30-7:00 pm. outside of Morrison Stadium and the Ryan Center. Food will be available there for purchase.
The match against Bradley Saturday starts at 5:00 p.m.
If you are not able to attend either match, you can listen on KOIL 1180 AM or the online stream. You can get stats on your computer or even get up-to-date stats on your mobile device from GoCreightonStats.com.