Behind a combined 33 kills from sophomore Leah McNary and freshman Melanie Jereb, No. 21 Creighton defeated Illinois State, 3-1, in the MVC Volleyball Tournament semifinals on Friday, Nov. 23.
The win lifted the top-seeded Jays to 27-3 on the season and extended the program record win streak to 15 matches. Illinois State, the fifth seed in the MVC Tournament, saw its season come to a close at 18-12.
The Jays took the opening set 25-21, but did so in uncharacteristic fashion as Creighton did not record a block until set number three. Trailing 5-4 early on, the Jays took control of the opening set with a 10-3 run to claim a 14-8 lead. Senior Megan Bober set the tone for the Jays with two kills and an ace to get Creighton going, while Jereb delivered the final two points with two of her five kills in set number one.
Illinois State evened the match at 1-1 with a 25-20 win the second set. The Redbirds captured eight of the first 11 points to take control at 8-3. Creighton made a brief push on consecutive kills by McNary to cut the deficit to 8-5, but the Jays would get no closer. The Jays were held to a .089 hitting percentage in the second set with 12 kills and eight errors on 45 swings.
Coming out of the break it was clear that Kirsten Bernthal Booth emphasized the importance of blocking as Creighton delivered five blocks in the third set to claim a 25-19 win. Bober and Thorson started the Jays’ block part on the fourth point to give Creighton an early 3-1 edge. Seven kills in the set by McNary and the improved Jays’ defense (Illinois State hit just .027 in the set) allowed Creighton to build a nine point edge at 21-12 and cruise to a 2-1 lead in the match.
Set four offered the first back and forth battle of the match, featuring 11 ties. Knotted at 17-17 the Jays used a slide play from Bober to sophomore Kelli Browning followed by a Jereb kill down the middle to bolt out by two at 19-17. Finally the Jays earned the first three-point separation of the set by forcing an Illinois State attack error to extend their lead to 20-17. Following a Redbird kill, Browning pushed it back to a three point edge with a cross court kill. Jereb delivered a lethal blow with an ace on the back line to make it 22-18.
The Jays move on to the MVC Tournament Final for the second time in school history on Saturday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. Creighton will face No. 3 Wichita State at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Midwest and can also be seen on ESPN3.