MINNEAPOLIS — Creighton’s hopes of advancing to the Sweet 16 after a spirited comeback missed by inches.
The Bluejays were within one point of victory, but seventh-ranked Minnesota rallied to salvage the fourth set then took the fifth en route to a 25-13, 19-25, 15-25, 26-24, 15-10 victory over Creighton in the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday night.
“We’re heartbroken,” coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “We came here to win and I couldn’t be prouder of our group. I thought they played their heart out. It’s hard because I love this group so much. It’s been one of my favorite years ever coaching.”
The 15th-ranked Bluejays led 24-22 lead in the fourth set, but Minnesota rallied with four consecutive points to extend the match. Then the Gophers pulled away from an 8-8 tie in the final set.
Minnesota (25-5) will face Florida in the Texas Regional on Friday.
The Gophers dominated the first set but the Bluejays (25-6) took the next two to quiet the raucous home crowd at Maturi Pavilion.
CU had match point in the fourth set on a block by Madelyn Cole and Megan Ballenger before a Minnesota timeout. After the break, the Gophers scored on a block then Ballenger’s swing landed just outside the right sideline. CC McGraw followed with an ace and the Gophers closed it out on a block Stephanie Samedy and Regan Pittman.
“It was the same message that we’ve been giving them, to go for it,” Booth told her players during that timeout. “One of our key tenets as a program is to be aggressive. I liked the swing that we made, missed it by inches. I like that we were aggressive. I think that’s the main thing.
“Sometimes it’s tactical, but I think in that scenario, we were just trying to calm the nerves and tell them to go for it.”
Creighton took a 5-1 lead to open the third and pushed it to 16-9. Minnesota cut it to 16-12, but Keely Davis found vacant space with a tap and Madelyn Cole followed with an ace to trigger a five-point run. Davis, held to six kills in the first two sets, had seven in third.
In the second set, the Jays tied the match by winning the final four points. Minnesota, which hit .281 in the first set, was held to.025 in the second.
“After that first set, losing 25-13, that can really knock a team down,” senior libero Brittany Witt said. “And I think just the way that we came back and knew that we were a good team and resilient, it was an awesome way to go down.
“We were fighting and we went for every point. I couldn’t be prouder of our team, just to turn around and be resilient and take it to five sets. It’s tough losing, but if there was a way to do it, this was definitely the way to go down.”