Kelli Browning had 15 kills and 11 blocks to pace the Creighton Volleyball team to a 3-1 victory over Arkansas in first round action of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament in Lawrence, Kan., on Friday. Held without a block in the first set, Creighton’s (23-8) formidable front line combined for 17.5 blocks in the final three frames to take a 22-25, 25-14, 25-22, 26-24 victory.
Creighton led most of the first set, scoring the first four points and racing to an 10-5 lead and prompt a Razorbacks timeout. Arkansas slowly crept closer, tying the score at 16, 17, 18 and 19 all before taking its first lead at 20-19. Arkansas would not trail again in the set, winning 25-22. Leah McNary led CU with five kills in eight swings and Michelle Sicner had 14 assists, but it wasn’t enough. Hayley Koop and Meredith Hays each had four kills to pace an Arkansas team that hit .394, including the set-clincher by Hays.
After not having a block in the first set, a Creighton front line that ranks second nationally in blocks per set made its presence known. CU had rejections on two of the first three points to go up 3-0. After a sideout, Jess Bird served the Jays into a 9-0 run that forced the Razorbacks staff to burn both timeouts. The CU lead never dropped below five again and the set was capped by consecutive rejections by McNary and Lauren Smith. Creighton had 6.5 blocks in the second set, holding Arkansas to -.048 hitting.
Creighton had five more blocks in the third set, pulling away to take a 25-22 victory and own a 2-1 advantage in the contest. Browning had five kills in six kills and added four rejections to pace CU. Creighton trailed 9-7 before a critical 8-1 run put them in the lead for good. A kill from Bird closed out the set with CU hitting .387.
Consecutive aces from Kate Elman helped Creighton take a 3-0 lead to open the fourth set, only to see Arkansas come back to move ahead 11-10. The Jays fell behind 18-14 and things looked grim after falling behind 23-19 and using its final timeout. The break led to an Arkansas service error, and Bird had a kill before teaming up with Browning to cut Arkansas’ lead to 23-22. A Razorback sideout gave Arkansas a pair of set point opportunities, but Creighton dug deep. A kill from Browning, followed by a Browning and McNary double-block tied the score at 24. McNary then pounded a kill to force match point before Browning and Sicner stuffed Hayley Koop on match point for the win.
Browning led all players with 15 kills on .522 hitting, adding 11 blocks for her seventh career kill/block double-double. McNary had 14 kills on .312 hitting, while Sicner had a double-double with 45 assists and 10 digs to go with six blocks. Ashley Jansen dug a season-high 16 digs, while Elman provided 14 digs in the contest. Creighton finished with 52 kills, two aces, 60 digs and 17.5 blocks on .250 hitting.
Arkansas (16-14) tallied 51 kills, five aces, 58 digs and six blocks on the night while hitting .142. Koop and Barbara Dapic each had 11 kills, but CU kept all-SEC performer Meredith Hays to seven kills on .-032 hitting in 31 swings. Emily Helm led the Razorback defense with 29 digs.
With the win, Creighton advances to play No. 14 national seed Kansas (24-7) on Saturday at 6:30 pm after the host Jayhawks defeated Wichita State (25-23, 25-19, 20-25, 25-22). That match will also air on ESPN3. Creighton defeated the Jayhawks in four sets in Omaha on September 10th.