Coming off of a visit to Los Angeles, the Creighton volleyball team returned home to Omaha this past weekend, where it hosted its annual Bluejay Invitational.
The invitational gave the Bluejays a few chances to turn some heads, as they held home matches against TCU, Chattanooga and No. 4 Kansas, who had advanced to the NCAA Final Four in 2015.
As Thursday night’s matchup with Kansas arrived, the Bluejay faithful showed up in force. D.J. Sokol Arena was packed with 1,289 fans. Some players took notice of the large turnout of fans, and described the impact it had on them as a team.
“I thought that the atmosphere was incredible,” said Kenzie Crawford, a junior defensive specialist. “That probably was the best [crowd] I’ve ever been a part of during my three years at Creighton.”
Junior specialist Lydia Dimke agreed that the crowd gave a spark to the already intense match.
“They brought so much lift into the arena,” said Dimke. “They are a part of why the match was fun.”
The crowd played a huge role in getting the Bluejays to perform well for the duration of the game. However, it wasn’t quite enough to edge out a victory over the fourth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, who took the match in five sets, 25-21, 23-25, 21-25, 28-26, 15-13.
Although the Bluejays did not come out with the win, they were encouraged by their performance against one of the premier college volleyball programs in the nation.
“We know that we are able to compete with each team in the country and we just have to believe and trust in ourselves,” said Taryn Kloth, a sophomore outside hitter.
Crawford had a similar feeling.
“We definitely learned that we are an amazing team and can compete with anyone in the country.”
After losing to the Jayhawks, the Bluejays would move onto Friday and Saturday matches against TCU and Chattanooga
The Bluejays would sweep both opponents in three sets, defeating TCU 25-19, 25-23, 25-20 and Chattanooga 25-14, 25-19, 25-12.
Jaali Winters led the way against TCU with 13 kills, while Kloth had a game-high 17 kills vs. Chattanooga. Creighton ended up taking second in the Bluejay Invitational behind Kansas.
“It just showed our resiliency being able to come back from an emotional loss against Kansas and beating two solid teams in three sets’” said Crawford. “We knew that we couldn’t take a game off and we focused on our side of the net to get the job done.”
With the nonconference part of the schedule nearing an end, the Bluejays will have one last week to prepare for the Big East conference play.
The Jays will travel to Lincoln this weekend for the Ameritas Player Challenge, a tournament that will again provide a test against proven competition.
The Jays will go up against Gonzaga and Montana State to open up the tournament before meeting up with in-state rival and reigning national champion, No. 1 Nebraska on Saturday.
The players recognize that this time of the year is important. A good week of volleyball could help the Jays gain momentum into conference play where the Bluejays are projected to repeat as Big East champions.
“I think that the team is great,” said Kloth. “We are all pushing each other to be the best that we can be.”
“Coming into the last week of the preseason I’m super excited about where this team is headed,” said Crawford.
“Like coach always says, ‘we are working to peak in October when we aren’t in the middle of the season.’ Then, we will keep going from there.”
The Bluejays look to be following the same plan of action that they took last year. Their plan took aim at providing preseason competition against some of the best teams in the NCAA so that the team was battle-tested enough for another run at the Big East title. Along the way, they even made a Sweet 16 appearance.
“We still have a lot of areas to clean up and growth to be made. However, this preseason has been extremely helpful in finding out who we are as a team,” said Dimke. “We have played some great matches against some great teams that will help prepare us for Big East play.”
Creighton opens its Big East schedule on Sept. 23 when it hosts Marquette at D.J. Sokol Arena.