Despite all the bantering, Marquette coach Bond Shymansky is gearing up for the serious business of trying to beat Creighton in the first round of the NCAA volleyball tournament.
Shymansky and CU coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth have been good friends since he offered her a high school job in Iowa City in the late ’90s.
They joke about how they knew each other back when. Or how Friday’s 4:30 match at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis is the battle of the Jesuits.
What’s funny is how they bring very similar teams to the postseason.
Both have great middle attacks, both have young outside hitters who are coming on, both are winning and both have good mojo entering the tournament, Shymansky said. They’re both physical, blocking teams at the net and play in similar arenas.
“Teams are always a reflection of the coach’s personality, and they reflect Kirsten’s personality really well,” Shymansky said.
Both teams also have an X factor.
Creighton’s is setter Megan Bober, the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year. She’s averaged 9.62 assists, 3.00 digs, 1.90 kills and 0.99 blocks per set.
Many setters can tip the ball. But Shymansky said Bober can hit the ball, which keeps opponents off-balance and makes the game move at a faster tempo. Teams get adjusted to the 1-2-3 tempo on hits, only to be surprised by a Bober blast on the second touch.
“She’s such a different type of player to try to contain and adjust to,” Shymansky said. “The way she plays the game is pretty exceptional.”
Marquette will counter with 6-foot right-side hitter Holly Mertens, one of three unanimous first-team All-Big East selections. The fifth-year senior is averaging 3.33 kills and 0.77 blocks per set with a .336 hitting percentage.
“Having somebody of that caliber as a right-side hitter can be difficult,” Shymansky said. “She’s got a pretty quick arm, and she’s a dynamic attacker. She adds an extra wrinkle to our offense.”
Also like Creighton, Marquette has good balance. Setter Elizabeth Koberstein, first in the Big East with 11.59 assists per set, directs the attack. Middle hitter Danielle Carlson ranks second in the Big East with a hitting percentage of .400. She averages 2.95 kills and 1.00 blocks a set.
“I think we have a lot of good things working for us. We just have to make sure they are all working on Friday,” Shymansky said.
While Creighton earned an automatic bid by winning the Valley, 27-6 Marquette lost to No. 9 Louisville in the Big East final.
That’s left his seasoned team hungry, Shymansky said.
The Golden Eagles had a similar tournament draw last year, when they beat Western Kentucky in the first round before losing to national runner-up Illinois. Western Kentucky went 31-4 and cracked the Top 25 for the first time. CU is 28-3 and ranked 21st, its highest ranking ever.
“I feel like it’s the same kind of animal we’re going to have to figure out how to tame,” Shymansky said.
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