The hosts of the 2015 Big East Volleyball Championship will have a chance to compete for the tournament title as the Bluejay volleyball team clinched a postseason berth over the weekend.
Creighton, the conference’s top team, suffered its first Big East loss of the season on Friday in a hard-fought battle with second place Villanova. But a 3-0 win over Seton Hall the next day helped the Jays clinch the conference’s first tournament bid.
“Now we can really just focus on the goal, which is winning the Big East Tournament,” freshman outside hitter Jaali Winters said.
Seton Hall, the team that the Bluejays defeated to win last season’s Big East Championship, put up a fight but couldn’t steal a set as the Jays swept the match and the season series with the Pirates 25-22, 25-18 and 25-20.
Winters and sophomore outside hitter Marysa Wilkinson each had 11 kills.
Sophomore setter Kenzie Crawford had 19 assists and nine digs and senior defensive specialist Ashley Jansen recorded 18 assists and one ace.
Friday’s matchup in Philadelphia featured two teams that could meet again at D.J. Sokol Arena over Thanksgiving weekend. The Bluejays downed the Wildcats 3-1 in Omaha on Sept. 27, but Villanova won eight of its last nine matches before welcoming Creighton on Friday.
A marathon of a match saw the teams trading off sets with the Wildcats eventually taking the victory in a 27-25, 22-25, 25-23, 19-25 and 19-17 win.
“I thought both teams played with incredible heart and there were so many fantastic points,” coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “I thought we battled back. We were down in a couple of different games and warded off some game points — which I thought was really impressive — and we did it by stepping up and making kills.”
In the final set, the Bluejays were facing match point down 14-11, but won three straight points to even the score at 14. The Wildcats led 15-14, 16-15 and 17-16, but the Jays battled back each time to even the score. The Wildcats eventually overpowered the Jays and took the dramatic win on their home floor.
“Obviously losing was not fun, but to see the level and heart that we gave during that game was really incredible,” Winters said.
Winters added that, despite only an attendance of 437, the energy in the arena made it feel like a there was a huge crowd.
Winters led Creighton with 19 kills, while Bird recorded 15 and Kloth contributed 11.
Junior defensive specialist Amanda Foje led the Jays with three aces.
The Bluejays held the 12-5 blocking advantage in the match, but the Wildcats held a 9-4 advantage in aces and an 80-68 advantage in kills.
With the win, the Wildcats remained undefeated at home. Villanova finished 6-12 in the Big East last season and was projected to finish seventh in the preseason poll.
“It was surprising coming from where they were last year, but they’ve definitely proven themselves,” senior setter Maggie Baumert said. “Hopefully we can see them again in the Big East Tournament.”
Five games remain in the regular season for the Bluejays. The team will take on tournament hopeful Marquette on Friday in Milwaukee before heading to Chicago to take on DePaul.
The Golden Eagles have won six consecutive matches since being swept by the Bluejays on Oct. 11 at D.J. Sokol Arena. Four wins have been sweeps while the other two have been 3-1 victories.
An 8-3 record in the Big East has the Golden Eagles in fourth place. Xavier sits ahead of them at 9-3, while Creighton and Villanova hold the top two spots at 12-1 and 11-2, respectively. The top four teams in the conference will make the postseason tournament Nov. 27 and 28 in Omaha.
The Bluejays will then travel Chicago to battle DePaul. The Jays came back from being down 2-0 at D.J. Sokol Arena to win a 3-2 thriller on Oct. 9.
Friday’s match will begin at 7 p.m. and can be seen on Big East Digital Network. Saturday’s matchup with DePaul (13-11, 2-10 Big East) will start at 8 p.m.