After the Shocker Classic down in Wichita, which warranted zero wins for the Jays as they struggled without star setter Lydia Dimke, Creighton rolled into BIG EAST play limping a bit. As the timetable for Dimke’s return unclear, the Jays had to figure out a way to win without one of the most integral cogs to their well-oiled machine.
Opening their conference slate agains Georgetown on Friday, Coach Booth tabbed Samantha Bohnet to continue with the setting responsibilities, a task Bohnet would call, “like riding a bike.” Were the nerves there early on? Perhaps, but after the first kill it all seemed to flow together without much hesitation.
In the first two set the Hoyas looked completely outmatched, struggling to find an answer on defense while their offense puttered and failed to gain rhythm in system. This led to back to back blowout sets by the Jays, winning the sets 25-12 and 25-11. They registered a 90% sideout rate, the highest number I’ve ever seen attributed to the stat.
Everything was clicking, with Megan Ballenger seeming like the primary go-to throughout the sets. She was everywhere, including getting a few assists after stepping in for Bohnet from time to time. She served, she swung on the wings, and she set up her teammates to get kills.
After the total domination by the Jays and a quick 5-minute break between sets 2 & 3 something happened. Whether Georgetown suddenly shook off the nerves that comes with playing the Jays or just retooled and adjusted, the Hoyas came out scorching hot in the third set, eventually taking it 25-20. They were able to get a rhythm in system and slowly started picking the Jays’ defense apart.
When the dust settled from the third set, Coach Booth started the fourth with Ballenger as the primary setter. She performed above anyone’s expectations, eventually moving back to the outside to allow Bohnet to slot in. The two combined wouldn’t miss a beat as the beatdown commenced, the Jays replicating their second set performance by downing the hapless Hoyas 25-11. The team, as a whole, set a school record for best hitting percentage in four sets, hitting .446 for the match. Taryn Kloth and Marysa Wilkinson combined for 29 kills while they both hit .542 for the match. That sort of savagery is typically saved for the conference tournament, but my lord.
On Sunday, Villanova rolled into DJ Sokol Arena looking to replicate their previous success against the Jays, yet were without their starting setter and one of their top hitters. This likely leads to why they lost to perennial cellar dweller Providence as well as their performance on the court Sunday.
With Lydia Dimke back in the starting rotation, Creighton was looking to get their offense into rhythm early, a feat they were able to accomplish rather easily. The only problem that the Jays dealt with was a sloppiness and lack of balance in their serve and return game. Villanova suffered a similar fate, leading to a difficult match to watch.
What turned out to be Coach Bernthal-Booth’s 300th win was a seemingly eerie extension of Creighton’s continued reign in the BIG EAST. Though they haven’t lost a match in some time, they occasionally play sloppy in a set or two, leading one to conclude that there’s a bit more tumult than one would expect from a top-15 team. Granted, losing Dimke was likely a punishing blow to the rhythm they’d acquired in the nonconference, but this immaculate streak they’ve got against BIG EAST competition is a historical one that would further solidify the legend and dynasty that is this Bluejays squad.
The Jays won the first set 25-20, though ‘Nova went on a 3-0 run on set point that made the score seem eons closer. As I mentioned before, Villanova was very sloppy, hitting just .056 in the first set.
The Wildcats were able to get into system and completely disrupt Creighton in the second set, though it was the most unwatchable set of volleyball these two eyes have ever seen. The two teams combined for 15 errors, six service errors, while Villanova hit just .059 for the set. It was atrocious, but the Wildcats got a 25-23 victory.
In vintage Creighton fashion, they absolutely crushed the Wildcats in the next two sets, 25-19 and 25-16, to claim their second BIG EAST win and prove yet again how elite they are in this conference. Winters and Wilkinson combined for 31 kills on the day while Dimke nearly acquired a triple double in her return (7 kills, 43 assists, 18 digs). Brittany Witt got her first double-double of her college career, collecting 12 assists and 18 digs. As a whole, the Jays finished with 69 digs on the day.
With the win at Villanova the Jays move to 2-0 in conference. The play of Jaali Winters, Marysa Wilkinson, Brittany Witt, Sam Bohnet, and Taryn Kloth has been exceptionally consistent. If Megan Ballenger and Naomi Hickman can take another step before the end of the season, and Lydia Dimke can stay healthy, this team is plenty poised for a postseason run that’d put last season’s to shame.