“We are excited to play some opponents other than ourselves,” is what Creighton volleyball head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth told White & Blue Review earlier this week as her team prepares to host the Bluejay Invitational Friday and Saturday at the new home of CU women’s athletics, the Ryan Athletic Center and D.J. Sokol Arena.
The flurry of activity at the new building this weekend is the culmination of a few weeks full of fun events and sneak peeks. First, the fans were able to check out the facility at an open house. Then the media received a look during Media Day. The volleyball team held the Blue-White scrimmage last Saturday. And the official dedication ceremony takes place this Friday at 10:00 a.m.
The buzz around the arena and what it offers compared to the Omaha Civic Auditorium is worthy of the attention. This facility is one of the few in the nation built from the ground up specifically for women’s athletics.
“I think going around the country and seeing other facilities, it is one of the best in the nation. Most facilities for women’s sports are usually hand-me-downs from former men’s facilities. The fans have the opportunity to have a more intimate setting and the crowd will be able to make some noise,” Bernthal Booth said. Sokol Arena will also help give the Bluejays a home court advantage in that they will be able to practice in the arena and call the building home all the time: at the Civic, the team was only able to practice on Thursday before their weekend matches.
The new facility, however, is not without some minor problems. Fans who attended the scrimmage last Saturday may have noticed a lot of hand visors in the east stands. Early concerns focused on the south side windows, which were actually shaded with large blinds. But fans no doubt didn’t anticipate the problems caused by the sun shining through the west windows near the top of the arena’s ceiling. Bernthal Booth said that it has affected the players during practice as well. Everyone can breathe a little easier as the windows will be addressed. For this weekend it sounds like they may be covered with a tarp, but will have some other things done to them for the long term.
Another challenge for this year’s team, besides sun-splashed windows, is experience – or a lack thereof. Eight players are new to the team this year while a ninth has seen limited time.
“We have an inexperienced team, but quality talent,” Bernthal Booth said.
As far as concerns about any specific positions, Bernthal Booth does not have any at this point. “I want to see how they respond since we have a lot of new players out on the court seeing their first Division I experience.” Friday evening’s match may help decide how things will play out for the rest of the weekend as far as personnel on the floor.
A case of the flu bug (or something else) has also drastically changed the Bluejay Invitational for this weekend. Due to multiple illnesses, Tulane cannot travel and is no longer a part of the event, which now only includes Texas Tech, Illinois, and Creighton. Originally the Bluejays were not going to be part of the first official match played at Sokol Arena. This change now allows them to become part of history. The 6:30 p.m. match scheduled for Friday night will now feature the Bluejays hosting the Red Raiders. Although TTU was 5-26 last season, they have a new head coach and for both teams it will be their first match of the season as well as the first ever meeting between the two programs. Since neither team has had the chance to see each other play, it is always an unknown how it will turn out.
With one less game in the invitational, Creighton has additional time to prepare for a bigger test against preseason #10 Illinois on Saturday at 7 p.m. The match serves as a difficult early test for the Jays, as Illinois returns six starters from a team that made last year’s Sweet Sixteen. Bernthal Booth says that preparing the team to play a group like the Illini is “different, but not emotionally different.” The Bluejays will be able to watch and scout Illinois once before they play them (as the Illini take on Texas Tech at 12 p.m. Saturday).
Losing the opportunity to play Tulane is a tough break for Creighton and their potential NCAA Tournament resume.
“Tulane is one of those teams that would probably be ranked somewhere between 25-35 if the rankings went that far. It is one of those matches that could be a determining factor at the end of the season if we are in contention for the NCAA Tournament,” Bernthal Booth said. “We didn’t win these types of matches last season…if we could have won one or two of those matches, we probably would have been in the NCAA Tournament.” As a replacement, Creighton will hold a volleyball alumni match Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., which will be free to the public.
After a heartbreaking loss to Northern Iowa in the semifinals of the MVC Tournament last season, the 2009 Bluejay team wants to capture what many thought they earned last season – a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Although they finished ahead of Northern Iowa in the regular season standings and finished the season winning 12 of their final 14 matches, the Bluejays were left out of consideration for the tournament. A good early season performance this weekend could continue the growth of this program toward the next level. A packed Sokol Arena to start the season would be nice, too.
Bluejay Invitational Schedule:
Friday, Aug. 28
6:30 pm – Texas Tech at Creighton
Saturday, Aug. 29
12:00 p.m. – Texas Tech vs. #10 Illinois
2:00 p.m. – Creighton Alumni Match
7:00 p.m. – #10 Illinois at Creighton
Both of Creighton’s matches this weekend will be broadcast on KKAR (1290 AM) and streamed live. And www.gocreighton.com will feature live stats and pay-per-view live video for each match of the Bluejay Invitational.