And so it begins, the Great Big East Adventure. Are you ready for some history?
History happens here, Saturday night, in a soccer game at Morrison Stadium. The first day of the rest of Creighton’s athletic history.
The No. 5 Bluejays host No. 7 St. John’s. A year ago, this was scheduled as a nonconference game.
But the winds of conference realignment took a rumor and made it real, and now this is the most unbelievable Creighton conference game ever.
Whatever awaits the Bluejay Nation, it all starts tonight. The national TV exposure. The trips to Madison Square Garden. New rivalries. Teams from Omaha and New York City, belonging together on the same field. The transformation of Creighton into a brand name to go along with other brand names of like mind, budget and spirit.
This is all still heavy stuff, and it begins tonight, with a soccer ball.
“It’s big,” said Creighton men’s soccer coach Elmar Bolowich. “It’s historic.”
The first Big East Adventure does not begin with the Hoyas at MSG or Marquette uniforms at CenturyLink Center. Hoops is the face of this move, and rightfully so.
But soccer is a great place to start.
For the first calendar year, and maybe beyond, all eyes on Creighton will look to see if the Jays can take their Missouri Valley pedigree and compete with the big boys and girls. Or, bigger boys and girls.
The first impression should be a good one. Creighton knows soccer.
The men’s soccer program is arguably the most elite program in the athletic department, the one that is regularly in the rankings and competes for national championships. The Jays are coming off back-to-back College Cup appearances. They’ve been ranked No. 1 this season, before a double-overtime loss Sunday to William & Mary.
Welcome to the Hilltop. For the visitors from New York, the front porch at Creighton will be Morrison Stadium, which should be filled to capacity (7,500) if not more. It’s homecoming. The place will be buzzing.
“This league is a good soccer league,” Bolowich said. “I know half the teams. The other half I have no idea. Georgetown was at College Cup a year ago. Marquette is very good. St. John’s is very good.
“This may be different for some of them. St. John’s (draws) between 900 and 1,500. Georgetown doesn’t have lights. Providence doesn’t have lights.”
It will be different, too, for Creighton. In the past, CU had to load up in the nonconference schedule because Valley soccer was so light. Now, the hits will keep coming every week. It might remind Bolowich of his former life in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“It was like that at North Carolina,” Bolowich said. “Every weekend you’re smacking it around with Maryland and Duke. By the end of the year, we were battle-tested. We had seen it all.
“I’m excited from that point of view. It’s no longer the cautious approach like it was in the Valley. ‘Hey, we’re playing Creighton, let’s just not lose.’ These teams now are coming to win. St. John’s is coming to win, they’re not coming to lose.”
There’s urgency right out of the gate. In the Big East, the top six (of eight) teams go to the league tourney. The top two get first-round byes.
That was all but automatic for the Jays in the Valley, where they’d finished first or second 20 times since 1991. But this will be interesting. The Jays (4-1) have a bunch back from last year’s College Cup team. But Bolowich isn’t sure what he has yet.
“I think we’re an OK team,” he said. “We can compete to go back to where we were. But there are so many variables right now.
“We are still a fairly young team. Last year in the College Cup we started five freshmen. We are still going through some learning curves, integrating some new players we put in this year. We only have three seniors that are starting. It’s not like the senior team we had with Ethan Finlay that ran the ship basically on the field.
“We need to find our guys who are going to run the ship on the field. Soccer is a player’s game, it’s not a coach’s game. That’s why you don’t see me jumping up and down like a madman on the sidelines. Once the whistle blows, I have very little influence. I have no timeouts. I can hardly change the course of the game. I can change personnel, but that’s all I can do. You need your leaders on the field.”
We’ll save the bench theatrics and timeouts for the road to Madison Square Garden. The Big East journey begins tonight, in downtown Omaha.