Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth likes to tell her players that if you want to be great, you might as well play great teams.
They’ll get that chance at the Shocker Volleyball Classic.
In what will be another challenging weekend for the No. 23 Bluejays, they’ll take on No. 7 Hawaii (8-1) at 5 p.m. Friday, South Dakota (9-3) at 5 p.m. Saturday and Wichita State (9-1) at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Hawaii, which has beaten No. 6 Texas and No. 11 UCLA and lost to No. 2 San Diego, will likely be the toughest team CU sees this season.
“It’s definitely going to be exciting,” middle blocker Lauren Smith said. “That’s going to be a blast.”
Booth loves that her team relishes the big matches. Still, she sometimes second-guesses her scheduling choices when she looks back at who CU already has faced.
“It’s worked out. This team has done a great job and I think our résumé is really good,” she said. “We have not had any rest. There has not been a match we could take off, which really could have bitten me. Fortunately, this team has stepped up to the challenge.”
The Bluejays (7-2) moved up in the rankings this week despite a 3-1 loss to UCLA last weekend. They also swept Cal State Northridge — which is receiving votes in the top 25 — and earned a five-set win over Denver.
Booth had a laundry list of things the Bluejays can improve after last weekend. But none are huge.
“I felt like in the UCLA game, we had some players play very well and some players not have their best matches,” she said. “We need to get to the point where, if someone is struggling, they can work themselves out of it.”
The Bluejays spent the week working on some specific items with each player. During a recent practice, Smith, a 6-foot-4 freshman, from Lincoln Pius X, was working with coaches on her blocking.
That could come in handy against Hawaii All-American Emily Hartong, who is averaging 4.9 kills per set. She’s a phenomenal hitter, Booth said, who is an offensive threat in the front and back row.
“They’ve got really good pieces in every area of the court and then they have this monster player to add some additional punch when they need it,” she said.
The Jays also will see a few local players in South Dakota’s Kendall Kritenbrink and Wichita State’s Chelsey Feekin. Kritenbrink, a graduate of Omaha Gross, leads South Dakota with 4.2 kills per set. Feekin, from Papillion-La Vista, is the Shockers’ setter and is averaging 9.9 assists and 0.9 blocks.
But Booth won’t think about them until after Friday’s showdown with Hawaii. CU needs to serve and pass well, not give Hawaii any easy balls and try to take the Rainbow Wahine out of system as much as possible.
It’s going to take a near-perfect game from every Bluejay to win.
“We have had a lot of different players who can step up,” Booth said. “What we have not done consistently is have everyone play at their best.”
Bring it on, Smith says.
“I never thought I’d play Hawaii or UCLA,” she said. “I can’t wait.”