Volleyball falls to Creighton in five-set BIG EAST title match


Photo by Helen Dudley

Outside hitter Anna Haak elevates for an attack against a double block.

When Marquette last played Creighton at home in early October, the Jays were uncharacteristically out of sorts, allowing Marquette to sweep them. The roles were reversed in Omaha a month later: Creighton showed up to play and Marquette didn’t in a three-set Blue Jay victory.

On the third go-around Saturday with a BIG EAST title on the line, both teams finally brought everything they had to bear on each other. For five sets, a kill for one side was followed by a block on the other. A service ace from one player generated a spec of momentum, only for it to be taken away by a side-out. Creighton and Marquette battered each other for 206 exhausting, exhilarating points.

On the last one, Creighton’s Jaali Winters delivered a crosscourt kill, clinching a fourth straight BIG EAST title for the Jays and sending Marquette to a heartbreaking loss. (25-22, 18-25, 25-23, 17-25, 11-15)

“I thought we failed to execute more down the stretch,” Marquette head coach Ryan Theis said. “If you take 60 swings and fly around for two-and-a-half hours, you’re tired.”

Marquette certainly didn’t show any signs of fatigue in the opening frame, posting a .342 hitting percentage en route to a set victory. Creighton had a 12-7 lead, but an Marquette went on an 8-1 run to reclaim the lead. There were five ties in the next 14 points before the Golden Eagles took four of the last five exchanges.

Creighton stifled Marquette hitter Allie Barber to bounce back and win the second set. Although Barber delivered on four of her 18 kills in the second set, Creighton’s deflected more of her shots and absorbed them in the back line. That pattern continued all day long; by the end of the match, Barber had 71 swings and a paltry .189 hitting percentage.

“They did a good job containing the left sides and that was their plan,” Theis said. “I tip our cap for their ability to stop our lefts.”

Despite lacking Barber’s typical blistering production, it looked like Marquette was going to run away with the second set. The Golden Eagles surged to a 7-2 lead, but Creighton sophomore Megan Ballenger roared to life after a quiet first set, notching four of her eventual team-high 16 kills.

Marquette appeared to have firm control of the first set. The Golden Eagles had an 18-12 lead and forced Creighton to use both of its timeouts. However, the Blue Jays went on a 6-0 run to even the set back up.

That’s when Marquette leaned on redshirt junior Jenna Rosenthal. The 6-foot-6 middle blocker put down five of her 18 kills during the third set including two crucial kills at the end of the set to put it away.

“I thought she had a really good day,” Theis said. “She’s gone leaps and bounds and in my opinion is one of the best middle blockers in the country. Offensively, she can produce too. We just have to find ways to get her the ball and control the first and second touch.”

Pushed to the precipice of elimination, Creighton entered the fourth set rejuvenated, hitting .442. Twenty of Creighton’s 43 swings resulted in a kill, as Marquette’s block failed to get any touches.

As Marquette’s energy waned approaching the fifth set, Creighton only picked up intensity. The Jays jumped to a 9-3 lead, forcing Theis to use both his timeouts. At the 14-11 mark, a successful Theis challenge granted Marquette the briefest of reprieves before Winters’ kill knocked them out for good.

Since Marquette lost, it will now be up to the selection committee whether or not the Golden Eagles get an at-large bid. RealTimeRPI, an analysis website, has Marquette’s RPI at No. 30. The highest-ranked team to be denied a bid last season was No. 47 Temple.

The NCAA Volleyball selection show airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU. The team will have a public viewing party at the Union Sports Annex starting at 7:30 p.m.