LAWRENCE, Kan. — The No. 21 Creighton Volleyball team picked up its 21st straight win with a hard-fought 3-2 triumph over Northern Iowa in the First Round of the 2016 NCAA Volleyball Tournament in Lawrence, Kan., on Thursday.
Scores of the match in favor of CU were 25-16, 25-20, 24-26, 14-25, 15-12.
Creighton improves to 27-6 on year, while UNI ends its season at 24-10. With the win, Creighton will advance to Friday’s sub-Regional final at 6:30 pm against fourth-ranked and No. 5 national seed Kansas. The Jayhawks swept Samford by scores of 25-19, 25-21, 25-17.
In a match-up featured Creighton’s third-ranked offense against a Panther defense that led the nation in digs, it was Creighton’s defense that stole the show. Led by Brittany Witt and Kenzie Crawford, Creighton won the digs battle, 86-71.
Creighton controlled the opening set after UNI scored the first two points of the match. The Bluejays reeled off the next five points, including three kills from Marysa Wilkinson, to take a 5-2 lead. UNI recovered to tie the score at 8-all before the Bluejays embarked on an 8-2 run. CU built the lead to 20-13 to prompt a second timeout from UNI and won the frame 25-16 on a Panther attack error. Creighton hit ..379 in the first set as Lydia Dimke dished 15 assists and Wilkinson and Winters both produced five kills.
The Bluejays picked up where they left off in the second set, cruising to a 10-4 lead. But UNI had other ideas, compiling a 12-2 run to move ahead 16-12 as CU used both timeouts. But Creighton ended the set with a 13-4 run to take the set, fueled by All-Americans Winters and Lauren Smith. Winters had five kills and two blocks down the stretch, while Smith added three blocks and a kill to seal the 25-20 win. Winters had nine kills and five blocks in the set, while Witt had 10 digs and Crawford nine digs to lead the Bluejay defense.
The third set featured sideout after sideout as neither team would give an inch. Creighton trailed 17-15 until regaining the lead with a 4-1 run thanks to a huge block from Smith and Megan Ballenger, but UNI bounced back to tie it at 20-all. With the score tied at 22-all, All-BIG EAST outside hitter Taryn Kloth put down two straight kills to earn CU two match points, but the Panthers rallied with the next four to earn a third set triumph.
The Panthers used a 5-0 run early in the fourth set to move ahead 6-3 and remained in control the rest of the way en route to a 25-14 win to even the match. The Panther block controlled the set with four stuffs to help limit CU to .000 hitting.
With UNI owning all the momentum heading into the fifth set, Creighton wasted no time getting it back. Three straight attack errors by the Panthers saw CU race to a 3-0 lead on Kenzie Crawford’s serve, and Creighton never trailed. UNI knotted the score at 7-all. But Kloth buried back-to-back kills after a timeout and after the teams switched sides to make it 9-7. UNI rallied to tie it at 10-10 before two straight kills from Marysa Wilkinson helped CU to a 12-10 lead. Up 13-12, Amanda Foje delivered an ace to get CU to match point, and Smith & Ballenger teamed for a block to win it. CU had four blocks in the final frame, including three by Smith.
Winters had her fifth double-double of the fall with 12 digs and season-highs in both kills (24) and blocks (4). Wilkinson finished with a career-high 18 kills, hitting .394, and Kloth had 12 kills. Witt led the defense with a career-high 32 digs, while Crawford recorded a career-high with 17 digs. Dimke dished 60 assists and Smith led the way with nine blocks. Creighton had 68 kills, two aces, 86 digs and 12 blocks on .181 hitting.
Northern Iowa was paced by 14 kills from Piper Thomas, who added eight blocks. Bri Weber contributed 12 kills and 10 digs and Kayla Haneline finished with 11 kills. The Panthers recorded 53 kills, 71 digs and 17.0 blocks on .144 hitting, but were held without an ace in 99 attempts.