Omaha, Neb. — Pushed to five sets by Villanova, the Creighton volleyball team refused to be denied conference perfection as the Bluejays earned a 3-2 over the Wildcats to finish BIG EAST play at 18-0 on Sunday, Nov. 20.
Set scores for the match were 25-22, 21-25, 25-20, 22-25 and 15-6. Creighton closed out its regular season with a 24-6 overall record, while Villanova fell to 18-13 on the season and 9-9 in conference action.
Each team entered Sunday with more than the normal motivation. Villanova entered Sunday’s match with its season on the line, as the Wildcats would claim the final spot in the BIG EAST Tournament with a win over Creighton. The Bluejays, meanwhile, had seniors Jess Bird, Amanda Foje and Lauren Smith playing potentially their final game at D.J. Sokol Arena. The added incentives led to a fierce battle from start to finish.
Creighton opened the first set by taking four of the first five points, keyed by a kill from Jaali Winters to open the match as a service ace from sophomore Samantha Bohnet. Villanova slowed clawed its way back to even at 11-11 and were within a point at 16-15. The Bluejays seized the opening set with a run of four consecutive points on two Wildcat errors and two service aces from junior Lydia Dimke. Creighton went on to take the set, 25-22, as Winters posted six kills without an error on 12 swings in the opening frame (.500).
Set number two saw Creighton jump out early once more, taking a 5-1 edge as sophomore Taryn Kloth slammed down three kills in the opening six points. Villanova fought back to even at 9-9 and again at 11-11. Leading 12-12 the Bluejays appeared to take control with six of the next seven points to build an 18-13 edge, but the Wildcats closed the set on a 12-3 run to send the two teams to the locker room knotted at one set. Villanova outhit the Bluejays .208 to .178 in the set, despite a combined 11 kills and just two errors from Kloth and Winters.
Both teams returned to the floor with renewed energy and the battle showed just that. The third set featured eight ties and two lead changes, the last tie coming at 13-13. Creighton pushed in front on a Villanova service error and a Winters cross-court kill. Up 18-17 moments later, a big block from Smith and Dimke helped turn the tide for the Bluejays. The ensuing point saw Dimke convert on the second touch to give Creighton a 20-17 advantage. Creighton used kills from junior Marysa Wilkinson and Winters to take the set, 25-20.
Villanova showed why it is the only team in the BIG EAST to take more than one set from the Bluejays this season in the fourth set. Trailing 19-15, the Wildcats used a 10-3 run to claim the fourth set, 25-22.
With the perfect season and the match hanging in the balance, the Bluejays wasted no time in set number five. Creighton claimed four of the first five points to build a 4-1 edge behind two Wildcat errors and kills from Kloth as well as Winters. Villanova worked its way back to striking distance at 6-4, but the Bluejays rattled off six straight to make sure they’d become the first volleyball team to post an undefeated conference season. The run began with a Villanova service error, then Bohnet and the Creighton defense forced Villanova into five consecutive attack errors. Smith had two blocks during the run and closed out to the match with a kill on the slide. Over the final two sets Smith had five kills and no errors on eight swings (.625).
Winters led all attackers with 22 kills and also finished with 16 digs. Kloth finished with 16 kills, while Smith had 10. Dimke also posted a double-double with 51 assists and 15 digs. Villanova got 13 kills from three players in Claire Crutchfield, Amanda Pederson-Henry and Darcy Wolfe
The Bluejays’ next task will come on Friday, Nov. 25 as Creighton battles Seton Hall in the opening round of the BIG EAST Tournament at 11:30 am (CT). Butler is hosting the 2016 BIG EAST Tournament, but the Bulldogs did not qualify as Marquette and Xavier face off in the other semifinal matchup.