Saturday’s match against St. John’s will mix homecoming with history for Creighton’s soccer team.
The old grads who return for the 7 p.m. game at Morrison Stadium will get a chance to witness the Bluejays’ first taste of competition in any sport in the new Big East.
“It’s an exciting thing for the university,” Creighton goalkeeper Alex Bolowich said. “We’re looking forward to a great game against a great opponent. It’s not going to be a slow match by any means.”
The conference opener will match the fifth-ranked Bluejays (4-1) against the seventh-ranked Red Storm (5-1). St. John’s has won its last four matches while Creighton is coming off a double-overtime loss to William & Mary that knocked it from the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
“We have to bounce back from that,” CU coach Elmar Bolowich said. “We know what we did wrong, and we have to fix it and get better.”
Bolowich has mixed emotions about being the coach of the team that plays Creighton’s first game in the new conference.
“It’s another match and it’s not another match,” he said. “The fact that it’s our first Big East contest for all sports is a historical fact. For us, it’s a matter of making sure we get off on the right foot in the Big East Conference, because only the No. 1- and the No. 2-seeded teams get byes into the conference tournament.
“So in essence, you can’t afford to slip up.”
Especially since the Bluejays expect the level of competition in conference play to be stronger than they faced as members of the Missouri Valley.
“Consistency is going to be a key factor for us,” Alex Bolowich said. “We know we have the ability to compete against teams like these, but it’s going to be important to compete on a consistent level. We need to show that we’re not a hot-and-cold team and that we can bring our game every time.”
Adjusting to a new conference is old hat for midfielder Zach Barnes. He played his first two seasons at Southern Methodist, competing in Conference USA. He transferred to Creighton last season.
“I think of the three conferences I’ve played in, this one is going to be the toughest,” Barnes said. “SMU’s conference was decent, and it was probably better than the Valley. There are a lot of tough teams in this conference, while in the other ones there was a line that kind of separated the really good teams.
“This is going to be a really tough challenge, but we’re up for it, and it starts this weekend.”
Five teams in the new Big East made last season’s NCAA tournament. Georgetown, Marquette and St. John’s qualified for the 48-team field out of the old Big East, Creighton made it out of the Valley and Xavier advanced from the Atlantic 10.
Two other league teams, Butler and Providence, received votes in this week’s coaches poll. In addition to Creighton and St. John’s, Georgetown was ranked 19th.
“The teams in the conference are going to be stronger than the Missouri Valley teams,” Elmar Bolowich said.
That’s not what concerns the coach the most, though.
“It’s the combination of our nonconference schedule with our conference schedule,” Bolowich said. “That could be really, really taxing. We’re really going to have to manage carefully what we do with the players.
“We have to let them rest, give them a chance to get their legs back. It’s going to be a process where we’re going to have to be a little more aware of the wear and tear that could occur in addition to the academic side as well as all the travel.”
NOTES: Creighton will be trying to record the 400th victory in program history Saturday. … St. John’s leads the series 2-1, with all of the previous meetings coming in the NCAA tournament. … Red Storm goalkeeper Rafael Diaz has been the conference goalkeeper of the week the past two weeks and has posted shutouts in his last three matches. … The Bluejays are 21-3-2 against Top 25 opponents at Morrison, while they are 24-12-6 against opponents ranked seventh or higher.