Creighton’s Naomi Hickman was reflecting on her breakout weekend before practice Monday. She couldn’t stop complimenting her teammates.
The junior middle blocker was named the MVP after the four-team UNI Tournament — and the Big East recognized her as the league’s offensive player of the week on Tuesday. Her emergence helped the Jays beat two ranked opponents and survive a five-set marathon.
But senior Megan Ballenger finished with 38 total kills on the weekend, as did Hickman. Junior Erica Kostelac had 37. Redshirt freshman Keeley Davis picked up 34 — she was named Big East freshman of the week Tuesday. And sophomore Jaela Zimmerman added 26.
So, sure, Hickman’s getting a sampling of the spotlight. But she insisted Monday that it’s not a solo act.
Sign up for World-Herald daily sports updates
Get the headlines from Creighton, Nebraska, UNO, high schools and other area teams.
“It’s exciting, for sure, but my mind always goes back to my team,” said the Lawrence, Kansas, product. “This weekend was really cool. We showed there’s so much parity in our offense right now.”
Unpredictability and balance were the themes of the weekend for CU, according to Hickman. This coming from a Jays team that last year saw two now-departed veterans, Jaali Winters and Taryn Kloth, amass 55.7% of its kills.
But against No. 15 Kentucky, Northern Iowa and No. 20 USC? Creighton had defenses guessing. Setter Madelyn Cole looked like a quarterback who didn’t even need to work through progressions because there was always a favorable matchup to exploit.
Hickman said she simply benefited from that.
“Madelyn’s doing such a good job, and all the hitters are executing,” Hickman said. “It’s so much easier for us as middles when the pins are getting kills because the blockers have to kick out and we’re one-on-one.”
Hickman’s undoubtedly gotten better at taking advantage of her chances, though.
Last year against Kentucky, she recorded just three kills in the five-set match. But that was last year.
When the teams faced off Friday, Hickman finished with a career-best 17 — and she was the clutch-swinging closer who clinched the critical third set with three kills in the final six rallies to put Creighton up 2-1.
“She’s hitting the ball harder, her vision has continued to get better, she can cut better angles,” coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said.
Hickman, at 6-foot-4, is a more proficient finisher on the slide, too, able to make teams pay for leaving a blocker isolated against her, according to Booth. For stretches last weekend, that’s how Cole linked up with Hickman, who hit .465.
But opponents will adjust, perhaps as soon as this weekend.
The Jays play UNO (5-2) on Friday at Sokol Arena before hosting Drake (4-2) and No. 12 Washington (4-1) on Saturday. They will be the first home matches of the season for No. 17 Creighton (3-2), which lost to No. 2 Nebraska and No. 5 Baylor on the opening weekend.
All of the early tests have helped the Jays gain confidence, but they’ve also provided CU’s foes with plenty of film to dissect.
New defensive tactics are coming. But Hickman, and her teammates, will be swinging boldly.
“The coaches talk to us a lot about it — we’re going to be aggressive,” Hickman said. “We’ve been working on just attacking the ball more. Seeing the court — using vision — and then going after it.”