Though it may be the offseason for the Creighton volleyball team, there is still plenty happening on the hilltop with honors, scheduling news and spring ball in full swing.
Kelli Browning, the senior middle blocker who garnered third team All-America honors for her play this past season, earned another accolade as it was announced recently that the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame has named her its sportswoman of the year.
“Obviously a well-deserved honor,” Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “Kelli has had a remarkable career and then really capped it with her best season her senior year. I can’t speak enough to what a great young woman Kelli is. It’s awfully enjoyable to see players you think really highly of getting honors like that.”
Browning, a first team all-conference pick for the third straight year, was a devastating force for the Bluejays on both offense and defense. She finished the year fifth in the nation in total blocks and was among the top eight in the Big East in hitting percentage, kills and points as well. Browning ended her career as Creighton’s all-time leader in hitting percentage, block assists and blocks per set.
Browning led Creighton to a 25-9 season, Big East regular season and tournament titles and a NCAA Tournament berth, and Booth said Browning’s honor is a reflection on the team and what it has accomplished.
“It’s definitely a team award,” Booth said. “I think Kelli would be the first to say that volleyball is the ultimate team sport; one person can’t take it over so if it’s not for the passers and the setters she’s not getting the ball. It’s definitely a shared award amongst the team.”
Browning will receive her honor at the induction ceremony and banquet on April 23 at the Scott Conference Center on UNO’s campus.
In addition to Browning’s honor, Creighton fans also received a bit of scheduling news last week. The Jays are still in the midst of finalizing their fall schedule, but Nebraska released its schedule recently and revealed the Cornhuskers will be coming to Omaha on Sept. 15. Creighton lost a close four-set game in Lincoln against then-No. 9 Nebraska a year ago, but this year the teams will meet at CenturyLink
“I like the idea of playing at the CenturyLink because on both squads there are so many Nebraska kids, between our team and their team,” Booth said. “Volleyball is the top female sport, really in the country right now for high schoolers, but for sure in our state. I love the opportunity to showcase what I think is a great sport and all the talent that we have in the area. To do it in front of a lot of people I think is great for the sport of volleyball in our state.”
Between the two rosters, 13 players are from Nebraska, including eight for Creighton.
“It’s going to be incredible,” Lincoln native and middle blocker Lauren Smith said. “Hopefully we can get a lot of blue out there to wash out the red … I’m excited for them to come up here and see what Omaha painted blue looks like. It will be really intense.”
That game is months away, however. Right now, the Bluejays are in the midst of their spring season and have already played matches against South Dakota and UNO.
The team has been dealing with some nagging injuries, particularly at the outside hitter position, so Booth has focused less on attacking and more on the other facets of
“Our spring has really been focused on our defense and our passing and our serving,” Booth said. “This group is phenomenal from a work ethic standpoint, from a chemistry standpoint; I can’t speak enough to the character of this team and I think that really can take us a long way.”
Ceighton lost a four seniors — Browning, Leah McNary, Michelle Sicner and Katie Neisler — but returns a strong core including five seniors-to-be and two all-conference
Melanie Jereb, an outside hitter who filled in at libero during conference play, has been a key part of the rotation sine she arrived on campus and is looking to step forward as a leader heading into her final season.
“I’m just looking to be the person that people look to when the going to gets tough and that I can be relied on and that I’m going to work hard every day at practice,” Jereb said. “I want to be a model of hard work ethic, a great attitude and a reliable teammate.”
Jereb said the core of returning players will make it easier to integrate the group of inexperienced sophomores and the large freshman class. Creighton signed five high school seniors and middle blocker Brittany Lawrence will be coming off of a red shirt year. One of the incoming freshmen, defensive specialist Samantha Bohnet, graduated from Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln a semester early and is already on campus working out with the team.
“Switching from individuals to team play, you can see how the whole team has come together,” Smith said. “I have a lot of faith in the incoming freshmen as well as the girls that are out here now taking on some leadership roles. It’s really fun to see.”
The Jays hit the road this weekend to participate in a tournament hosted by Kansas State. Along with the Wildcats, Creighton will also play against Missouri State and Missouri-Kansas City.
Creighton will likely release its fall schedule next week.