Getting there was great. Getting back will be even better.
Coming off a milestone 2010 season, the Creighton volleyball team won't lack for motivation nor a mission this fall, coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said.
The Bluejays made the NCAA tournament for the first time in December, and they made a statement by upending Iowa State in their postseason debut.
Yet the to-do list for Booth and the program didn't necessarily get shorter, the coach said. The Bluejays would love to be the team that knocks Missouri Valley heavyweight Northern Iowa from the top of the league standings. Creighton still is waiting to savor a conference title, and Booth said her players are hungry to prove that their strong 2010 finish was no fluke.
"There's no question that we made a big breakthrough last season," said Booth, whose team made it to last year's Valley tournament championship game, earned an at-large NCAA invitation and finished 21-12. "But there's still so many things we want to accomplish."
Creighton will start getting after its goals when it opens practice Tuesday. The Bluejays hold their annual blue-white scrimmage Aug. 20, kick off their season at the Texas A&M Invitational Aug. 26, and play their first home match against Northern Illinois Sept. 2.
Heading into her ninth season leading CU, Booth is excited about the mix of experienced players and newcomers on the team's roster.
The Bluejays bring back one of the Valley's top setters in Megan Bober. As a sophomore, she earned first-team All-Valley and honorable mention All-America honors. The 6-foot Bober provides a strong threat with her passing, attacking and blocking, and Booth said the junior wants to be even better in 2011.
"Without us (coaches) even prompting her, Megan has already talked with us about all the ways she feels she needs to improve this year," Booth said. "She's worked really hard this spring and summer, and as a coach, you love it when a player has a year like she had and still sees ways she wants to get better."
Creighton has only two seniors in right-side hitter Karisa Almgren and middle blocker Laurel Sanford. Both players averaged about two kills per set last year and were key to the team's success. Sanford, a second-team All-Valley pick, ranked second in the league with 1.10 blocks per set.
Other returners with significant court time include middle blockers Heather Thorson and Savannah Smith, defensive specialist Brooke Boggs and libero Julianne Mandolfo. An Omaha Marian graduate, Mandolfo ranked among the league leaders last year in both digs and aces and earned a spot on the All-Valley freshman team.
Creighton's five-player freshman class also has plenty of potential to contribute right away, Booth said. Even the rookies who don't get into the rotation this season, the coach said, will make an impact by pushing the starters during practice.
The team's freshmen are Michelle Sicner (Millard North), Kelli Browning (Waukesha, Wis.), Leah McNary (Tarpon Springs, Fla.), Katie Neisler (Double Oak, Texas) and Lizzy Stivers (Pebble Beach, Calif.).
Sicner, a 6-2 setter, was ranked No. 60 on the PrepVolleyball.com Senior Aces list. Browning is a 6-4 middle blocker who originally committed to Wisconsin.
McNary, Neisler and Stivers all can play outside hitter, the position in which the Bluejays lost the most to graduation from 2010. Others in the mix at that spot could be sophomores Natalie Hackbarth (Algona, Iowa) and Lexi Malm (Central City, Neb.).
"So many of our players, as far as attackers, can play different positions," Booth said. "So the challenge for us over the next couple of weeks is to not only figure out our starters, but to figure out the spots that they're going to be most effective. We're definitely excited to get in the gym and get the season started."
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