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How we see the Big East: Creighton volleyball back-to-back champs

[caption id="attachment_12199" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Courtesy of Big East Conference Courtesy of Big East Conference[/caption]   The top-seeded Creighton women’s volleyball team captured the Big East Championship for a second consecutive year with a three- set victory over second-seeded Villanova (25-18, 25-18, 25-17). The Bluejays controlled the match from the start and never trailed until the third set after conceding the match’s first point. Creighton dominated Villanova in all statistical categories, hitting .286 with 48 kills, three aces, 49 digs and 11 blocks compared to Nova’s mark of .147 with 32 kills, 40 digs and three blocks and no aces recorded. Jess Bird was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The junior outside hitter finished hitting .375 along with 14 kills, eight digs and a season-best four blocks in the deciding match. Joining Bird on the All-Tournament team were seniors Maggie Baumert and Kate Elman.
In the process, Creighton earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, the fifth in school history, where it will face Coastal Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Dec. 4 in the first round of action. The top 16 teams were seed- ed nationally and placed into four regions, with Creighton being the No. 16 seed. The Bluejays finished the year with an overall record of 25-8, overcoming a 1-4 start to the season to take 22 of their last 26 matches. During the strong finish, the team steamrolled through the Big East with a 17-1 mark against conference opponents. The only blemish on the conference record was a five-set loss on the road to tournament runner-up Villanova. Creighton’s success can be credited to a variety of factors, including 2015 Big East Coach of the Year Kirsten Bernthal Booth, who is the winningest coach in CU history at 258-145. In addition to a top-tier coaching staff, the Bluejays have proven to have exceptional talent on the court, as well.
Freshman outside hitter Jaali Winters was the unanimous selection for Big East Freshman of the Year and named First Team All-Big East. Winters led the team in kills (454), kills per set (3.98), double-doubles (14), points (498) and points per set (4.37). She was named Big East Freshman of the Week six times during the season, and had double-figure kills in all but one conference match. Joining Winters on the All-Big East team were Lauren Smith and Baumert. Smith, who earned a Second Team All-Big East selection last season, led the conference in blocks per set (1.33) and was third in the conference in hitting percentage (.336). Baumert led the Big East in assists per set in conference play (11.51). It was the first All-Big East accolade for Baumert, who is a team captain. Bird was named Big East Tournament MVP and earned a Second Team All-Big East selection for the Bluejays. Bird ranked second on the team in double-doubles (8), kills per set (2.74) and digs per set (2.84).
This is also the second consecutive year the Big East will have multiple at-large tournament bids, with Villanova and Marquette also representing the conference in the NCAA Tournament.
For Creighton to have a successful tournament run, the team might want to have revenge on its mind. Six of their eight losses have come against teams in the field of 64 that the Bluejays could see again.   Matt Zeigafuse can be reached at or on twitter @mattzeigafuse

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