After making great strides the last few years, including NCAA tournament wins in 2010 and 2012 and its first top-25 ranking last season, the Creighton volleyball team is still searching to conquer one major hurdle.
Win its own tournament title.
No. 19 Creighton had perhaps its best opportunity in the nine-year history of the Bluejay Invitational as the Jays faced an unranked but undefeated California squad.
Once again, it was a team other than the Jays that walked out of D.J. Sokol Arena with the hardware as California thumped the Bluejays in straight sets 26-24, 25-21, 25-14 to hand Creighton (4-1) its first loss of the season in front of 1,168.
The Jays got behind big early in the first two sets before clawing back to make each close, but the Bears made sure there was no doubt in winning the third going away.
Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said starting slowly and finding their game late was a recurring theme, and she would like to see that change.
“You know, we got into a hole, and that's been a trend this weekend and a little bit last weekend,” Booth said. “We've got to work on starting ready to go.”
Melanie Jereb had eight kills to lead the Jays, while Michelle Sicner, Jess Bird and Leah McNary each added seven.
The Bluejays were outhit .339 to .129 and outblocked 8-5 by the Golden Bears.
Tournament MVP Adrienne Gehan led Cal with 18 kills and added two blocks and six digs while setter Joan Caloiaro had four kills and 35 assists.
Creighton's Jereb and McNary also were named to the all-tournament team.
“We need to learn from the match. I think this is good for us,” Booth said. “We played a great team. They exploited some things, so that's what we need to see as coaches so we can go back to the gym and hopefully get better.”
The Bluejays fell into a hole early in the match, trailing 13-6 in the first set before clawing their way back to a 16-16 tie.
Knotted at 20, Cal won the next three points. But again the Jays were able to win four of the next five points to draw the set even.
That would be the last Jays comeback the Bears would have to hold off as California scored the final two points, including the game-winning kill by Papillion-La Vista South graduate Lillian Schonewise to give Cal a 1-0 advantage.
Schonewise finished the match with four kills, five blocks and one dig.
The Jays got behind early again in the second set, trailing 13-6.
Creighton closed to within two points twice — at 21-19 and 22-20 — but was unable to dig out of the hole, dropping the set 25-21.
The Bluejays hit just .077 for the set.
Cal finished the third set on an 11-5 run to put the Bluejays away.
“I thought we really fought in game one and two,” Booth said. “I thought in game three we kind of fell apart a little bit more than I would have liked.”
Earlier in the day, Jereb and Smith each had eight kills, and Kelli Browning added six kills and six blocks to lead the Bluejays in straight sets past South Florida 25-15, 25-22, 25-14.
Bird, a freshman from Bennington, led Creighton with 18 digs.
USF would drop its evening match to Northern Colorado in four sets to go 0-3 in the Bluejay Invitational.
South Florida ............................ 15 22 14
At Creighton ............................ 25 25 25
USF (kills-aces-blocks): Rodriguez 1-1-3, Whalen 4-0-1, Fairs 11-1-2, Devlin 0-0-0, Hampton 2-0-0, Mullins 2-0-3, Van Sant 0-1-0, Bivins 5-0-1, Soares 0-0-0, Brown 3-0-0. Total 28-3-10.
CU: Jereb 8-3-1, Neisler 0-0-0, Browning 6-0-6, Sicner 2-1-2, Bird 5-2-2, L. Smith 8-0-3, Jansen 0-0-0, S. Smith 0-0-1, Foje 0-0-0, Elman 0-0-0, McNary 8-0-5, Stivers 0-0-0. Total 37-6-20.
Set assists: USF 27 (Devlin 14, Soares 10, Fairs 1, Hampton 1, Brown 1), CU 34 (Sicner 29, Elman 2, Bird 2, Neisler 1).
California (5-0) ................................. 26 25 25
At Creighton (4-1) ............................ 24 21 14
UC (kills-aces-blocks): Schonewise 4-0-5, Vukasovic 9-0-3, Gehan 18-0-2, Caloiaro 4-0-1, Neumayr 4-1-1, Higgins 10-0-4, Kerr 0-0-0, Mckennon 0-0-0, Cole 0-0-0. Total 49-1-16.
CU: Jereb 8-0-1, Neisler 0-0-0, Browning 6-0-2, Sicner 7-0-1, Bird 7-0-0, L. Smith 5-0-1, Jansen 0-0-0, S. Smith 1-0-0, Elman 0-1-0, McNary 7-0-2, Stivers 0-0-0. Total 41-1-7.
Set assists: UC 43 (Neumayr 35, Kerr 4, Gehan 3, Cole 1), CU 40 (Sicner 31, Jereb 3, Elman 3, Bird 2, L. Smith 1).
• Video: See highlights from Creighton vs. California:
• Video: See Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth talk with the media: