A nonconference schedule that saw the Creighton volleyball team take down a top-10 opponent, record the third-largest attendance in school history and break a 65-game losing streak when down two sets to none prepared the Bluejays for a run at another Big East Championship.
The team heads into Big East conference play as the favorite to win the conference for the third consecutive year.
Creighton (6-7) is the reigning regular season and tournament champions in the conference.
The unanimous pick to win the Big East in the preseason coaches poll, the Bluejays were also honored with three All-Conference team members. Junior outside hitter Jess Bird, senior libero Kate Elman and junior middle blocker Lauren Smith were each honored. Bird was also named the Big East preseason player of the year.
“The season starts over now,” coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “We divide it in sections. It is 0-0 and now we’re on a mission and it’s about a Big East Championship -- that’s our No. 1 focus right now.”
The Marquette Golden Eagles — picked to finish second behind the Jays — enter the conference season with an 8-4 record.
Preseason All-Big East junior middle hitter Meghan Niemann helped the team to a strong start in 2015. Redshirt freshman Taylor Louis has been making waves of her own, earning recognition from the conference three times this season and currently leading the nation with 5.38 kills per set.
A slew of difficult opponents are to blame for the Xavier Musketeers’ 4-6 start to the 2015 season. Three of the six losses came to teams ranked in the top 25. The Musketeers were most recently topped by the No. 24 Kentucky Wildcats, a team the Bluejays swept on Sept. 5, when the Wildcats were ranked No. 10 in the country.
Picked to finish fourth in the conference, the St. John’s Red Storm was another Big East team to load its nonconference schedule with quality opponents. Losses to current No. 18 Oregon, No. 5 Florida and No. 1 Penn State have the Red Storm entering conference play at 10-5.
Senior outside hitter Karin Palgutova was a unanimous selection to the preseason All-Big East team, and was named Big East Player of the Week on Sept. 7. Senior libero Shawna-Lei Santos was also named to the preseason All-Big East team.
The Butler Bulldogs have struggled out of the gate, going 3-9 to start the season. Junior middle blocker Makayla Ferguson and sophomore setter Kayla Bivins were both named preseason All-Big East.
The Bluejays will open conference play with a match against the Seton Hall Pirates on Friday. The teams last met in the Big East Tournament final. Despite the Pirates going 2-0 against Creighton in the regular season, it was the Jays who took home the tournament title with a 3-1 win.
“They’ve [Seton Hall] kind of had our number a little bit,” Booth said. “We’ll need our leadership to remind the team that Seton Hall will come in ready to go after us."
The Pirates are 6-6 and were picked to finish sixth in the Big East in the preseason poll. Senior middle blocker Amanda Hansen and junior libero Tessa Fournier were preseason All-Big East selections.
Following the duel with the Pirates, the Bluejays will take on the Villanova Wildcats. The Wildcats are 10-3 on the season and senior outside hitter Lauren Carpenter was named an All-Big East selection earlier in the season.
The Georgetown Hoyas, DePaul Blue Demons and Providence Friars finished in the bottom three spots of the Big East preseason rankings and did not have a player named to the preseason All-Big East team. The Hoyas are 6-7, the Blue Demons are 11-1 and the Friars are 9-5.
The Bluejays wrapped up a difficult nonconference schedule with a 2-1 showing in the Creighton Classic. A match with Wisconsin marked Creighton’s fifth matchup against a top 12 team this season, but it was Sunday’s win over Kansas State that stole the spotlight.
Historically, the Bluejays were 0-65 when trailing two sets to none at home. The team was 9-186 all-time in the situation. Down 2-0 to Kansas State heading into the locker room, Creighton came out with a comeback for the record books.
“Finishing our nonconference with a huge win is going to give us a lot of momentum going into Big East play,” senior setter Maggie Baumert said. “Now we’ve been in this position and we know that we can win even if we’re down 2-0.”
Booth also noted that the dramatic five-set victory helped the team finish the nonconference schedule on a high note.
“It shows the character of this group that regardless of the circumstance they’re going to continue to play hard,” Booth said. “I’m thrilled that they got rewarded with a W.”
Smith and freshman outside hitter Jaali Winters were recognized with all-tournament honors. Winters had a career-high 25 kills in the match against Kansas State.
Winters said that Kansas State set up a really great block, but with the help of bench players telling her where to find open shots she was able to overcome the Wildcat front.
On Friday, the pursuit of a second consecutive Big East Championship will begin in the same place that it will end. Creighton will host Seton Hall at D.J. Sokol Arena. The Big East Championships will be played at D.J. Sokol Arena on Nov. 27 and 28.
The Bluejays will meet the Pirates at 7 p.m. on Friday before welcoming Villanova to Omaha on Sunday at 1 p.m.