CU Host, Place Second in BIG EAST Tournament

Jays volleyball now looks towards an at-large bid in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

The Creighton (22-8) volleyball team played a pair of four-set matches over the weekend, defeating Xavier (21-11) in the semifinals of the BIG EAST Conference tournament and falling to regular-season champion, Marquette (25-5), in the finals.

Friday night, the Bluejays faced the Musketeers for the third time this season. The last time the two met in Omaha, CU won a five-set thriller. Creighton won the first two sets 25-20 and 25-19 before dropping the third 25-22. Creighton closing out the match with a 25-17 win in the fourth set.

Serving was again an issue for Xavier who struggled when they last played at D.J. Sokol Arena with 10 service errors. XU added six more in this match. Offensively, the Bluejays got meaningful contributions from a wide array of players.

Kelli Browning and Lauren Smith led the way with 13 and 12 kills, respectively. Michelle Sicner and Leah McNary finished with 11 kills apiece, and Jess Bird rounded out the group of Jays in double figures with 10. Sicner was able to find her teammates all night, recording 44 assists in the match. The junior also added another triple-double, finishing with 21 digs. Bird put up a double-double as well with 22 digs in the match.

Saturday night's title match provided 1,336 fans to witness the third meeting between Creighton and Marquette in the BIG EAST final. Each team swept their visitor in the teams' two previous matches this year.

The championship had the feel of a heavyweight title thanks to the energy in the arena. The Golden Eagles took the opening set 25-18, but the Jays evened the score at one, winning 27-25. MU closed out the match with 25-21 and 25-16 wins in the last two sets. Although the Jays missed out on the conference's automatic berth, they are still expected to earn an at large bid to the NCAA tournament. The Jays expect their challenges over the weekend will help prepare them for additional postseason play.

"Not everything was clicking at the start of the match, but a match like this gets us ready for the postseason with the caliber of our opponent tonight and this weekend," said Sicner. "We're ready."

As Sicner mentioned, the good news is that CU's season is not likely over. While hosting an NCAA tournament game would be a nice surprise, the Jays aren't counting on it. "Our preference is to host next weekend but we'll play wherever they put us whether that's Ames, Lawrence or Lincoln," said head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth.

Marquette's offense was working well throughout the championship match with the Eagles hitting .258 for the match after .279, .245, .205 and .310 in the four-sets. On the flipside, Creighton hit .216, which began with a slow start of .178,, before ending the match with .263, .209 and .222.

CU struggled from the service line, committing 11 service errors. In addition, CU finished with five receiving errors compared to nine and one, respectively, from Marquette.

McNary's 12 kills led the CU attack. The freshman duo of Bird and Lauren Smith added 11 apiece. Bird had her second double-double of the weekend with 15 digs. Browning was bottled up, getting just nine kills. Sicner did contribute a double-double with 39 assists and 11 digs.

Regular season Player of the Year and Tournament MVP, Elizabeth Koberstein, had a double-double with 56 assists and 12 digs for the champions. Autumn Bailey put down 17 kills, leading the Marquette offense. Nele Barber was right behind Bailey with 16, and Meghan Niemann recorded 15. Barber's play was a difference maker according to Coach Booth.

"When we played Marquette the first time, they didn't get the same play from (Nele) Barber as they're currently getting, which gives them two good options on the outside," said the Jays' coach.

BIG EAST Conference Tournament Team: Kelli Browning, Lauren Smith (Creighton), Belle Obert (Butler), Lauren Metzger (Xavier), Nelle Barber, Meghan Niemann and Elizabeth Koberstein (Marquette).

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