The Creighton volleyball team is off to a 3-1 start in Missouri Valley Conference play after dropping a match to No. 16 Northern Iowa and defeating Bradley in four sets at home last weekend. This weekend, the Jays head to Illinois State and Indiana State. Senior Alicia Runge the team with 4.17 kills per set. Against Bradley last Saturday, she made only one error and had 17 kills on 26 swings.
Freshman Julianne Mandolfo replaced senior Nayka Benitez as the team’s libero two weeks ago. Since then, she’s averaging a stellar 6.29 digs per set and looks like anything but a freshman. White & Blue Review asked head coach Kirsten bernthal Booth and Runge about this switch and more before practice on Wednesday.
White & Blue Review: You’re off to a 3-1 start in Missouri Valley Conference play. Would you say you’re satisfied?
Kirsten Bernthal Booth: I think we’re playing well right now, so in that respect, I’m satisfied. But you want to win every game as a coach. I think the main thing is, Are we getting better? Do I think this team has room to improve? All those things are positives right now and I think we’re doing some good things and I think we have some upside, some room to get better. It’s early. The good thing this year with the league is we have opportunities to earn a bid for the first time in a long time.
Alicia Runge: We’re satisfied, but we know that we can play better. The one game that we lost, we definitely didn’t play to our potential. We’re satisfied with overall 3-1, but we know that we have things to work on.
WBR: Is “inconsistent” an accurate way to describe this team?
AR: Yeah. I think we get inconsistent or we lose focus a little bit, and when we lose focus, our play goes down. When one thing breaks apart, then it leads to the next thing and the next thing, so we need to focus on, if we make an error, we’ve got to come back with the next one and not make an error.
WBR: Nayka and Julianne have switched roles. Has that been a smooth transition for those two and the team?
KBB: First of all, they’re like best friends on the team. They both want the spot, so I think it both leads to great competition. Both of them played phenomenal this weekend. I think we’ve got two really, really outstanding defensive specialists and I think we’re really in a special situation. I wish we could get two libero jerseys and play them both. I think they’ll continue to compete all year for that spot.
AR: Julianne’s really stepped up and Nayka’s found her spot — even though she’s not playing the whole time, she’s still contributing what she needs to make the team better. I think they’re both great, so it doesn’t really matter, but they’re doing their jobs no matter what their roles are.
WBR: Along with Julianne, Savannah is a freshman who’s making a lot of contributions. Did you tihnk the two of them would both be able to step in right away and play as much as they have been and as well as they have been?
KBB: With Savannah, not as much, but we had some injuries that took place, and she’s done a nice job. Julianne, we knew, was going to be a very good player. Nayka knew that she was going to come in and push her for the spot. With her, I think the question was if she could do it every night. So far, she’s shown us that she can play well every night. You see great talent as high-schoolers, but you’re never sure what you’re going to get when they get on the court.
AR: We kind of just threw them out there and said, ‘Let’s see what you’ve got.’ All freshmen are going to get scared, but they’ve each had their times when they’ve shined. They’ve really contributed a lot to our team and made us a lot better than last year.
WBR: What do you know about Indiana State and Illinois State this weekend? What is the team going to have to do well?
KBB: Illinois State’s a really good team. They’re traditionally a really good team in the Valley. They struggled last year a lot, but they’re much better and they have some really good wins. They’re an outside-oriented team, and at home, they’re really good. We’re going to have our hands full.
Indiana State, record-wise, isn’t as good, but we always struggle at their place. We barely won last year. Every team’s good this year. Indiana State, traditionally, is a different team on its home court than on the road. As coaches, we need to reinforce over and over that every match is the biggest match of the year. Winning against Northern Iowa is the same as a win against Bradley. It’s important that we get up and play our best ball every night.
AR: I know they’re good teams and we’ll have to play well. I think we can beat them with the athletes and the skills that we have. If we play to our potential, we should be able to win.