The Creighton Volleyball team reached its first Missouri Valley Conference Tournament final in school history with a 25-21, 25-19, 17-25, 25-12 win over rival Wichita State on Friday evening in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
With the victory, Creighton (20-10) advances to Saturday’s 3:30 pm championship match against nationally-ranked Northern Iowa (29-2). Wichita State drops to 21-7 with the loss and will await its NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday at 2 pm on ESPNews.
Creighton had been 0-5 in previous semfinal matches, with each loss coming to Northern Iowa (1997, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009). Saturday, Creighton will be looking to reverse a recent trend, as UNI has eliminated the Jays from the MVC Tournament in each of the last five seasons.
“I think tonight wasn’t just a big match because we defeated a great team, but a momentous night for the program,” said Creighton head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth. “Our first tournament final in program history, and we feel this win will help solidify a bid to the NCAA tournament.”
Creighton overcame a 17-14 deficit with a set-ending 11-4 run to claim a 25-21 win and draw first blood. With the score knotted at 21, Allie Oelke slammed a kill into the back corner, and Megan Bober followed with a setter dump. Laurel Sanford and Bober would team for a block of Emily Adney to make it 24-21, and the Jays closed out the first set on a kill from Sanford off the Shocker block.
Creighton went ahead 14-9 midway through the second set, holding that leading into a 20-15 edge down the stretch. Creighton woudl pound an astounding 23 kills in the second set to earn its 25 points, while Nayka Benitez had 16 of her 22 digs at the break during that second frame. Oelke recorded nine kills to pace the Jays by the break.
Wichita State answered the bell in the third set, claiming a 25-17 decision behind six kills from Camri Zwieesler, before Creighton took a 25-12 final set. In the final set, Oelke had six more kills and Benitez served an 8-0 run to put CU up 19-7. The Jays clinched their first finals appearance when Alicia Runge stuffed Amanda Backes on match point.
“Allie Oelke had a career match tonight with her offense,” said Booth. “She was a force all night. I also thought our backcourt defense was outstanding, lead by Nayka Benitez and Julianne Mandolfo.”
Benitez topped a strong Bluejay defensive effort with a season-high 33 digs, with Julianne Mandolfo chipping in with 17 digs and three aces. Oelke led CU’s offense with 16 kills on .306 hitting, while Alicia Runge (11 kills) and Karisa Almgren (10) played a supporting role. Megan Bober approached a triple-double, finishing with 43 assists, 11 digs, eight kills and three blocks. Creighton finished with 61 kills, five aces, 80 digs and eight blocks while hitting .227.
WSU was paced by 13 kills and 21 digs from Zwiesler. WSU freshman Ashley Andrade had nine blocks for WSU while subbing for injured MVC Defensive Player of the Year Sarah McGee in the middle. The Shockers finished with 44 kills, three aces, 78 digs and 14 blocks while hitting .193.