Published Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 9:45 pm / Updated at 10:28 pm
VOLLEYBALL
Despite NCAA exit, Jays show progress

It's a set that haunts Kirsten Bernthal Booth.

It's also a loss, she said, that shows how far the Creighton volleyball team has come.

The Bluejays were leading No. 11 Minnesota 17-10 in the third set of Saturday's second-round NCAA tournament match when the roof caved in. The Gophers rallied and ended up winning 20-25, 25-17, 25-23, 25-17. Minnesota plays Purdue in the next round Friday.

Booth said that meltdown in the third set is a hard pill to swallow and her only disappointment in a hugely successful year. But she takes satisfaction that Minnesota, a team with firepower that she hadn't seen in 10 years, had to play a good match to overcome her team.

“I think it was a huge step forward for our program,” Booth said. “Our best is in the mix with some of the best teams in the country.”

Booth is spending this week meeting with players and catching up on paperwork instead of preparing for another NCAA tournament match as she'd prefer.

Still, the talks were positive after a season that saw the No. 21 Bluejays go 29-4, enter the Top 25 for the first time and win their first Missouri Valley Conference regular-season and tournament titles.

“As a coach, if you enjoyed the season, most of the players did, too,” Booth said. “We sure had a blast. It was a fun ride for sure.”

Because it was such a good year, and Booth liked the way the Bluejays were playing at the end, the offseason will be a time to continue to improve instead of making wholesale changes.

She'd like to see the team develop more of a backrow attack as well as improve its offensive efficiency.

“I don't look at our game and think, 'Gosh, we're bad in any areas.' We were great in some areas and solid in others,” Booth said. “I think we need to continue to improve in every area. You are either going forward or backward. We want to go forward in every aspect of the game.”

There will be some changes in the lineup.

Setter Megan Bober, the Valley player of the year, will graduate, as will seniors Heather Thorson and Brooke Boggs.

Michelle Sicner, a 6-foot-2 sophomore from Millard North, will take over at setter after playing at rightside hitter. Like Bober, she's tall, a great blocker and a strong defensive player.

“Michelle has been setting since she was a little kid and she has really nice, soft hands from a setting standpoint,” Booth said. “I think Michelle will do a great job. Bober's shoes are big, but Michelle is a great setter and she is definitely capable of filling them.”

Sophomore Savannah Smith will be in the mix at middle or rightside hitter while redshirt freshman Lauren Smith will fight for the middle spot. Jessica Bird, an incoming recruit from Bennington, could also get some early playing time.

Booth said she particularly enjoys the time from January to March when coaches are allowed to work with individual players two hours a week. It lets her get to know each athlete better, as well as work on particular parts of their game.

It was during that time last year that Kelli Browning broke down her arm swing, and she flourished this year.

There's one thing that Booth doesn't want to mess with this offseason.

“The team chemistry and culture is very good,” she said. “One of our biggest goals is to make sure we continue that. That's so critical to success.”

Bober, Browning earn all-region honors

Bober and Browning were named to the AVCA All-Central Region first team.

It's the first time that Creighton has had two all-region players in the same season.

Bober is the first player in program history to earn all-region honors twice. She averaged 9.69 assists, 2.99 digs, 1.93 kills and 1.00 blocks per set. Browning, the conference's defensive player of the year and first team All-Valley, averaged 2.82 kills and 1.65 blocks per set.

Wichita State’s Chelsey Feekin, a Papillion-La Vista High School graduate, and Iowa State’s Kristen Hahn and Alison Landwehr also made the team. ISU’s Jamie Straube, from Tecumseh, Neb., was an honorable mention pick.

Nebraska's Gina Mancuso, Hannah Werth and Lauren Cook were on the Mideast Region team. Meghan Haggerty was honorable mention.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1034, marjie.ducey@owh.com

Contact the writer: Marjie Ducey

marjie.ducey@owh.com    |   402-444-1034

Marjie Ducey covers state colleges, women's sports, high schools, select sports, outdoors, holes in one, soccer, running and any other type of interesting story. She also puts out the metro edition and does some updating on Omaha.com.

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