The Creighton volleyball team has dealt with just about everything the past few weeks.
The Bluejays have been down 2-0, up 2-0 and won easily in three sets. Whatever the circumstance, they've handled it.
“This group has found a way to win, and that will be big in the tournament,” coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “When they hit times of adversity, they won't roll over. They will fight, they will be aggressive.”
The No. 21 Bluejays, winners of 16 straight matches, will try to continue that streak in the NCAA tournament. They play Marquette in the first round at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis. The winner will take on the Minnesota-Liberty victor at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Booth likes that her team is entering the tournament with momentum. The Bluejays beat Wichita State 3-2 to clinch the Missouri Valley regular-season title, and the next week battled through the conference tournament to turn back the Shockers again in three sets in the final.
Booth tells her players to put all those experiences in their arsenal so they know they can handle a similar situation in the NCAA tournament.
“I think that's good for confidence,” she said.
They'll need that when they face a solid, well-coached Marquette (27-6) team.
Creighton isn't what people perceive as the typical mid-major with small, quick athletes who play good defense. Marquette isn't that type of team either, Booth said.
Creighton's leading attackers are 5-foot-10 sophomore Leah McNary with 3.00 kills per set and 6-4 Kelly Browning with 2.81 kills and 1.67 blocks. Browning was named the Valley defensive player of the year.
Marquette relies on 6-foot rightside hitter Holly Mertens with 3.33 kills and 0.77 blocks per set.
“We're going to have to defend really well to be successful and they will have to defend our big hitters,” Booth said. “It's going to be a battle.”
Creighton's strength has been its balanced offense. Setter Megan Bober, with 9.62 assists per set, will be in charge of finding the hot hand.
“That's your hope: that your hitters are all hot, so your setter has a lot of choices,” Booth said. “You hope your kids are playing at their best at this time of year.”
The Bluejays, while pretty goofy off the court, have approached each match in a businesslike manner, and they're doing the same for the NCAA tournament.
Booth said the Bluejays aren't content just making the NCAA tournament, like they were two years ago when Creighton made its first appearance. They expected to advance to the postseason this year.
“If we lose on Friday, and Marquette is a very great team, this team will be very disappointed. They are going there ready to win and not hoping to win,” she said. “That's the difference from two years ago. It's a good statement on the progress of the program over two years.”
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