[caption id="attachment_11209" align="alignnone" width="800"] Creighton Athletics[/caption] As the calendar turns to October this week, it is once again time for the fall sports to begin conference play. On the volleyball court, the Creighton Bluejays are looking to run away with the Big East. A week into the conference season, is anyone surprised to see Creighton sitting toward the top of the standings? No. The Bluejays, who were unani- mously picked to win the confer- ence in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll for the second straight year, have roared out to a 2-0 start so far in Big East play and are 6-7 overall. Creighton’s early season success has not gone unnoticed. In fact, the program’s success has received national recognition. In the latest poll from the Amer- ican Volleyball Coaches Associa- tion (AVCA), the Bluejays earned four votes.
What has been the reason for Creighton’s continued dominance within the last few years? It is simple: the leadership of libero Ashley Jansen and defensive specialist Kate Elman. Both these seniors have helped contribute for the reigning Big East champions. So what has made these two se- niors to special so the Creighton program? Roughly four years ago, these girls were competing together, not for Creighton, but for their local high school team, the Omaha Marian Crusaders, in pursuit of a state championship. Now, nearly four years later, Jansen and Elman are leading the Bluejays, and doing a pretty darn good job at it. Exemplified by their undefeated record in conference play—albeit, only 2-0—you would be hard- pressed to find a team more skilled. Their leadership has helped younger players such as freshman Jaali Winters become a force in the conference. Through the early part of the season, Winters leads the team with 3.57 kills per set and is one of the focal reasons why this Creighton team is on the verge of being nationally ranked.
Creighton’s program success has helped put the Big East conference back on the map for women’s volleyball. Modeling the methods of Creighton, many of the up-and- coming teams in the Big East can help establish the conference as na- tionally relevant in women’s volleyball after losing programs such as Louisville and Notre Dame during conference realignment. So which team can rise up and knock off Creighton, who has received an at large bid for the past two years that they have been in the conference? Could it be Marquette? Xavier? Even Seton Hall? Do not sleep on Marquette. After appearing in three straight NCAA Tournaments, the 2014 Golden Eagles missed out on a fourth straight appearance despite finishing first in the conference in RPI and 33rd in the nation.
In Ryan Theis’ second year as head coach, Creighton and the rest of the conference should be on watch. Theis came over last season from Ohio University, where he led the Bobcats to a 144-54 record and took the program to four NCAA Tournament appearances in six years, featuring a pair of first-round victories. Despite an early-season Big East loss to Xavier, you can be assured that this Marquette team will be back in the NCAA Tournament in no time.
With other young programs such as the aforementioned Xavier and Seton Hall, which made it to the conference championship match a season ago, women’s volleyball in the Big East is on the rise. Matthew Rachek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @matthewrachek.