LAWRENCE, Kan. — Although Creighton volleyball was playing in the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year, the Bluejays are still a young team, without a single senior on the roster.
Saturday night they ran into a Kansas team with seven seniors, a team also playing in the second round of the national tournament for the second straight year.
Age won out as the Jayhawks ended Creighton's season with a four-set victory at home, dropping the Bluejays 25-20, 22-25, 25-22, 25-21. Kansas moved on to the round of 16 in Los Angeles on Friday, while Creighton finished its year 23-9.
After being tied one set apiece, Kansas held on in the key third set. The Jayhawks led 21-17 after consecutive points, which brought the home crowd of 3,052 to its feet. After a Creighton timeout, the Bluejays rallied for five of the next six points to tie the match at 22. However, Kansas clinched it with a service error by CU and then consecutive kills by the Jayhawks' Tiana Dockery and Chelsea Albers, a junior out of Papillion-La Vista.
“They are a senior-laden team, and I thought they played like it tonight,” said Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth. “I thought some people stepped up. They had a great match and a great game plan against us. I thought it was a great match.”
One Jayhawk who stepped up was Albers, who produced a match- and career-high 18 kills against her hometown school.
“I thought Albers really did a nice job, and at some points kind of taking over the match,” Booth said. “She had some clutch balls, and she was impressive tonight.”
Kansas controlled the fourth set, racing out to a 5-1 lead and then building a 17-11 advantage. Creighton rallied to cut the margin to 23-21, but a Bluejay service error and a Kansas block gave the Jayhawks a 25-21 win.
“We had opportunities to fold in game four,” Booth said. “The crowd was really getting into it, and KU was tasting it. We battled back.”
Setter Michelle Sicner said the Bluejays decided they had nothing to lose.
“We are going to go out fighting,” she said. “We are not going down giving up. I am really proud of all of us for coming together. We felt like we all played for each other and put it all out there. It stinks losing, but we were really glad we were able to come together and put it all out there.”
Junior outside hitter Leah McNary agreed.
“That was the first thing we said in the locker room was that we put it all out there,” she said. “We are sad that we lost, but being able to put it all out there when it meant the most was great.”
Creighton hit just .176 in the match, its lowest in its last five outings. Lauren Smith and McNary had 12 and 10 kills, respectively, but could not keep pace with KU's Albers and Dockery, who added 14 kills.
Creighton's 23 victories were the second-most in program history behind the 29 wins from 2012. Next year the Bluejays will return a star-studded lineup, which includes first-team All-Big East selections Kelli Browning and McNary and second-team pick Sicner.
The loss marked the third time in four appearances that Creighton finished one game away from the round of 16.
“We are disappointed, but I think that is part of sports and a part of life, and how do you respond?” Booth said. “We will rest and we will feel bad and we will go through that, but this is a resilient group, a high-character group, and I know when we return in January, I have no doubt this will drive us.”
Creighton (23-9) ............................................ 20 25 22 21
At Kansas (25-7) .......................................... 25 22 25 25
CU (kills-aces-blocks): Jansen 0-1-0, Jereb 2-0-1, Browning 9-0-7, Sicner 7-0-5, Bird 9-1-1, Smith 12-0-3, Neisler 0-1-0, Elman 0-0-0, McNary 10-0-4, Stivers 0-0-0. Totals 49-3-11.5.
KU: Albers 18-1-3, Jarmoc 9-0-4, Soucie 6-0-5, Mathieu 0-0-0, McNorton 0-1-1, Carmichael 7-0-2, Riley 0-0-0, McClinton 5-0-0, Wait 0-1-0, Dockery 14-0-2, Anderson 0-1-0. Totals 59-4-9.
Set assists: CU 47 (Sicner 38, Jereb 4, Bird 3, Jansen 1, Elman 1), KU 57 (McNorton 51, Riley 5, Soucie 1). A: 3,052.
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Video: Postgame press conference