Four years ago, Kate Elman and Ashley Jansen were representing the Omaha Marian Crusaders in the state volleyball tournament. Last year, Kelsey O’Connell was in the same position, helping the team to its second consecutive state championship. Still wearing white and blue jerseys, all three Marian girls represent a new team this year: the Creighton Bluejays.
Elman is a senior libero, Jansen a senior defensive specialist and O’Connell is a freshman middle blocker as the Bluejays search for their second Big East title.
Marian, located just more than five miles from Creighton’s campus, has become a recruiting gold mine of late for the Bluejays. While the school has always had a reputation for sending strong, confident and academically excellent young women to Creighton, the foundation for volleyball dominance began with coach Rochelle Rohlfs.
Rohlfs, who stepped down in March, won more than 700 games in 26 years as the Crusaders’ head coach. She guided the team to four Class A state championships, including back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014.
“The thing with Rochelle is that she’s not only taught great athletes that have had success, but the work ethic and culture that she cultivated in their gym leads to people having success when they are challenged with the rigors of a Division I program,” Bluejay coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said.
O’Connell, the youngest of the three Marian graduates, noted that Rohlfs had a significant impact on her ability to become a Bluejay.
“Rohlfs has been such a great influence on me,” O’Connell said. “She really helped me become a better player overall and has been one of the more inspiring people in my life.”
Though the three have brought skill, personality and success to the Bluejays, their journeys from Crusaders to Creighton have not been the same.
Elman was named first team All-State by the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal Star following her senior season as a defensive specialist.
Jansen earned team MVP and honorable mention all-state during her senior year at Marian while splitting time at setter with current Ohio State student assistant coach Maggie Heim. Jansen always had Creighton on her radar. Her dad attended the Creighton School of Law, and her two older sisters, Kate and Emily, went to Creighton.
In each of their four years at Marian, Jansen and Elman helped the Crusaders to a top four finish in the state tournament, including the 2009 title.
“The coaches and the culture here are almost identical to Marian,” Elman said. “And I think that’s exactly why everybody chooses to come here: because of the culture that Coach Booth, and Tom and Angie have created.”
Elman committed to Creighton first, and when Jansen walked into Marian one day and told Elman that she was going to Creighton as well, the two expressed excitement.
“We were excited to bring our dynamic duo to Creighton to see what we could do with it,” Elman said.
O’Connell was present for Rohlfs’ final two state championships in 2013 and 2014 before committing to her dream school, Creighton, where she joined her
“Seeing how well they’ve done here has really helped me make the transition,”
She was named first team All-State by the Lincoln Journal Star and second team All-State by the Omaha World-Herald during her junior year. She also earned recognition on the 2014 AVCA Under Armour Watch List.
While the schools share bonds in faith, community and academic and athletic excellence, the culture of both and the mutual respect of one for another has been key to the establishment.
“Kirsten and I have a great relationship,” Rohlfs said. “If I can send a player to her, I’m happy with that.
“When you end up graduating from Marian, you leave with a confidence. There’s a high bar here, and once they reach that bar it’s hard for them not to (be) at the top of their game as a student-athlete.”
Just like her three Marian girls, Booth is happy to welcome any Crusaders to the Bluejay family. She said that the schools share a mutual admiration for each other.
“We’ve had great success with our Marian athletes and we love them as people and as players,” Booth said.
Skills and leadership on the volleyball court aren’t the only things that the Marian girls have brought to Creighton. The Marian tradition of hall surfing has made its way into D.J. Sokol Arena, and even some opponents’ arenas.
“Ashley and I do it at a couple of places we travel to,” Elman said. “When you have a narrower hallway, you start with your feet on one end and you push off to the other end of the wall and flip around. Basically, you’re surfing down the hall.”
While the act is hard to put into words, the tradition has made it easy for the Marian girls to stay connected beyond high school. According to Jansen, traditions like this have helped herself and Elman form an immediate bond
“There’s always a Marian bond,” Jansen said.
On Saturday night, four Marian girls found themselves in uniform at D.J. Sokol Arena. On one side, Jansen, Elman and O’Connell sported Creighton uniforms. On the opposite side of the net, Elman’s sister, Lexi, squared-off against three former teammates as an outside hitter for the Pacific Tigers.
The teams met in the championship match of the Bluejay Invitational. While Creighton took the first set, the Tigers rallied to win the next three sets and the tournament. Lexi Elman, playing in front of the hometown crowd, took home the honors of tournament MVP.
A career-high six aces in addition to 25 kills and 12 digs helped the younger Elman lead her team to victory.
“I’ll definitely remember this forever,” Lexi Elman said. “That was a really great thing that I got to play [Kate] in her senior year and basically the last time I’ll ever be able to play on the court with her. It was really special and I’ll remember it forever.”
The Bluejays posted a 2-1 record at the Bluejay Invitational. Creighton defeated the Lipscomb Lady Bison on Friday night and the CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners on Saturday morning.
“We think that we took a lot of steps forward this weekend,” Booth said. “[The Pacific loss] is disappointing; it’s a match that could have gone either way we feel, so obviously that hurts a little bit, but this is a pretty mature team and I think that they will learn from it and move forward in our next matches.”
Freshman otutside hitter Jaali Winters and junior middle blocker Lauren Smith earned all-tournament team honors.
Winters was also named Big East Conference Freshman of the Week.
Kate Elman had 49 kills in three games and Jansen delivered an ace serve against
The Marian alumni and the rest of the Jays host the Creighton Classic this weekend.