For the fourth straight fall, the Creighton Volleyball team has been picked to win the BIG EAST Conference in a preseason vote of league coaches. In addition, Jess Bird, Lauren Smith and Jaali Winters were each named to the BIG EAST’s Preseason All-Conference team, with Winters taking home Preseason Player of the Year honors.
The two-time defending league champs, Creighton was the unanimous selection to take the title as coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team or their own student-athletes. The Bluejays return four starters and 11 letterwinners from a 27-9 team that won the BIG EAST regular-season and tournament titles last fall while reaching a fourth straight NCAA Tournament. The Bluejays ended their season by making their first Sweet 16 appearance in program history and finished the year ranked No. 19 in the final AVCA poll.
Creighton received a maximum nine first-place votes in the poll and led the way with 81 points. Marquette nabbed the remaining vote for first place and was second with 70 points. The rest of the poll consisted of Xavier (63), Villanova (62), Butler (41), St. John’s (40), Seton Hall (31), Georgetown (26), DePaul (22) and Providence (14). Seven of the teams are picked in the same spot as last fall’s preseason poll, with Villanova, St. John’s and Seton Hall the only exceptions.
Creighton’s preseason prognosis of first place marks the 13th straight season of a top-five prediction in its league, after nine such accolades from the Missouri Valley Conference from 2004-12 before joining the BIG EAST for the past four seasons. In the previous 22 seasons (19 in the MVC, three in the BIG EAST), Creighton has improved its preseason ranking 10 times, been ranked correctly seven times, and dropped from preseason expectations just five times. Notably, 11 of Creighton’s 13 previous teams under head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth have met or exceeded preseason poll predictions, and the two that didn’t dropped just a single slot.
The trio of Bird, Smith and Winters made Creighton one of two schools (Xavier) with three of the 12 preseason all-BIG EAST selections. Winters is CU’s third different Preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year in the last four years, joining Bird (2015) and Kelli Browning (2013).
Winters set a Creighton record with 546 kills last season as the outside hitter was named an AVCA Third Team All-American and First Team All-BIG EAST. Winters was named AVCA East Region Freshman of the Year last fall, as well as a unanimous pick as BIG EAST Freshman of the Year.
Smith was a First Team All-BIG EAST choice last fall while also garnering AVCA All-America plaudits. She led the BIG EAST in both hitting percentage (.343) and blocks per set (1.27), starting all 36 matches at middle blocker.
Bird was named Most Valuable Player of the 2015 BIG EAST Tournament after picking up Second Team All-BIG EAST recognition last fall and First Team honors in 2014. She ranked second on the team in both kills and digs and ranks as one of the most versatile players in the BIG EAST.
The Bluejays will report on Monday, Aug. 8, for their first practice and play their lone exhibition on Aug. 19 at 6:30 pm. The regular-season starts Aug. 27 at the Iowa State Challenge with a match against Wichita State in Ames, Iowa.
Creighton will host 13 regular-season home matches, including contests four NCAA Tournament qualifiers from a year ago, in 2016. To inquire about season tickets, call (402) 280-JAYS.
2016 Preseason All-BIG EAST Volleyball Honors
(listed alphabetically by institution, then last name)
Anna Logan, Butler, So., OH
Jess Bird, Creighton, Sr., OH
^ Lauren Smith, Creighton, Sr., MB
^ Jaali Winters, Creighton, So., OH
^ Taylor Louis, Marquette, So., OH
^ Meghan Niemann, Marquette, Sr., MH
Julia Cast, St. John’s, Jr., MB
^ Tessa Fournier, Seton Hall, Sr., Libero
^ Allie Loitz, Villanova, Jr., OH
^ Abbey Bessler, Xavier, Sr., OH
Kristen Massa, Xavier, Jr., OH
Sofia Peterson, Xavier, Sr., RS
Preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year – Jaali Winters, Creighton, So., OH
^ – denotes unanimous selection
2016 Preseason Coaches’ Poll
First place votes in ( )
^ Creighton – 81 pts. (9)
Marquette – 70 pts. (1)
Xavier – 63 pts.
Villanova – 62 pts.
Butler – 41 pts.
St. John’s – 40 pts.
Seton Hall – 31 pts.
Georgetown – 26 pts.
DePaul – 22 pts.
Providence – 14 pts.
^ – denotes unanimous selection