#3 Creighton Bluejays (20-10)
#1 Northern Iowa Panthers (29-2)
Nov. 27, 2010 – 3:37
Cedar Falls, Iowa (McLeod Center)
MVC Tournament Finals
-Saturday’s match will be televised regionally on Fox Sports Midwest, with Greg Halbleib and Linda Dollar on the call. It is important to note that in Omaha, the game will air only on Cox Cable channel 2, due to other programming that will air on FSN Midwest. The match will also be broadcast on radio on KOIL (1180 AM), with Brad Burwell and Rob Anderson on the call. A link to that audio is also available on www.gocreighton.com.
-Third-seeded Creighton has advanced to the finals thanks to 3-1 victories over sixth-seeded Drake and second-seeded Wichita State the past two days. Top-seeded UNI had a quarterfinal-round bye before sweeping fifth-seeded Illinois State on Friday.
-Northern Iowa won both previous meetings this season. The Panthers won 25-16, 25-21, 24-26, 25-20 on Sept. 24 in Omaha, Creighton’s only home MVC loss of the year. In the rematch on Oct. 23 in Cedar Falls, UNI won 27-25, 27-25, 25-19. In that second match, Creighton had set points in each of the first two sets but could not convert before running out of steam in the third set.
Key to both matches was the play of all-Valley performer Beth Discher. Discher had 30 kills without an error in 84 swings against Creighton this fall, hitting at a robust .357 clip. Two-time MVC Player of the Year Bre Payton averaged 11.71 assists, 3.86 digs and 1.86 kills per set in two contests vs. Creighton as well.
From the Creighton side of the net, Alicia Runge led the Jays with 4.00 kills per set, while Julianne Mandolfo has averaged 7.00 digs per set. Creighton’s vaunted block has just nine stuffs in seven sets vs. UNI this fall.
-Northern Iowa leads the all-time series against Creighton, 37-3, including a 16-2 lead in Cedar Falls. The Panthers lead 6-0 all-time MVC Tournament meetings, including five semifinal meetings and a 2005 quarterfinal round match-up. Kirsten Bernthal Booth is 3-18 all-time against UNI, and 3-18 against her good friend, Bobbi Petersen. Booth is the only Creighton coach to ever beat UNI.
-With an RPI of 39 entering the Valley Tournament before its wins vs. No. 67 Drake and No. 18 Wichita State, Creighton has likely already played its way into heavy NCAA Tournament at-large consideration in the event it does not earn the league’s automatic bid. A win on Saturday vs. No. 6 UNI would solidify that a spot in the field.
Certainly, both teams are hoping to continue the trend that has seen each team to reach the Valley Tournament championship game in the previous four years has made to the NCAA Tournament.
Creighton was considered by many as one of the “last teams out” in both 2007 and 2008, when it had RPI’s of 56 and 48, respectively but did not make it.
Creighton has never made the NCAA Tournament in volleyball since restarting its program in 1994.
-Most program insiders believe that if Creighton is selected to the NCAA Tournament, a likely destination is 50 miles west down I-80 to Lincoln, Neb. Head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth went to high school in Lincoln, while assistant coach Angie Oxley Behrens and volunteer coach Amanda (Gates) Sjuts each won national titles while playing for the Huskers. When Nebraska visited Creighton earlier this year, the Jays held a 24-21 first-set lead before eventually being swept (26-24, 25-18, 25-15).
-Creighton is seeking to become just the fifth program to ever win the State Farm MVC Volleyball Tournament. UNI has won exactly half (14) of the previous 28 tournaments, while Illinois State (9), Missouri State (4) and Wichita State (1) also have won the event.
-Northern Iowa is ranked No. 11 nationally. The Bluejays are 1-41 all-time vs. ranked teams, including an 0-3 mark this fall. The only win came last season, when Creighton defeated No. 25 Wichita State in Omaha. Creighton is 0-10 all-time against ranked Northern Iowa teams.
-Saturday’s win improved Creighton to 18-6 in matches started by Laurel Sanford. The Jays went 1-4 early in the year with Sanford sidelined by an ankle injury. She also voluntarily surrendered her starting spot on Senior Night so that teammate Lauren Bloemke could start the match at the service line.
-Saturday’s win gave Creighton at least 20 wins for the third time in the last five years. Both the 2006 and 2007 Bluejay teams finished the season 21-10.
-Creighton’s win vs. Wichita State last night was Creighton’s first in six all-time MVC Tournament semifinal appearances. All five previous semifinal matches were losses to Northern Iowa. As such, this is Creighton’s first-ever finals appearance.
-Creighton is seeking to become the first No. 3 seed to ever win the State Farm MVC Volleyball Tournament. The Jays are the sixth No. 3 seed to reach the finals, and fourth in the past five seasons. The No. 1 seed is 11-2 all-time in the finals.
-Should the match go five sets, it might favor Creighton. Each of the last five MVC Tournament matches to go five sets have been won by the lower (worse)-seeded team. Two of Creighton’s three all-time wins vs. Northern Iowa were five-set contests, with both taking place in Cedar Falls.
-If Creighton can reach the NCAA Tournament in Volleyball, it would create an unprecedented first. No MVC school has ever reached the NCAA’s in volleyball, women’s soccer and men’s soccer in the same fall.
Not only has a Volleyball/Women’s Soccer sweep of MVC Tournament titles never been done before, no Valley school has ever had both a women’s soccer team and volleyball team reach the NCAA’s in the same year.
-Creighton is one of five schools that rank in the top-50 nationally in both digs per set and blocks per set. The other four teams that can claim this are Dayton, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Wichita State and SMU.
-This is the sixth straight season that Creighton and UNI have met in the Valley Tournament, the longest streak of meetings in league history. Missouri State and UNI met five straight seasons from 1986-90, while UNI and Illinois State also met in five straight from 1997-2001.
-The MVC is the nation’s No. 6-ranked conference. In the past eight years, the No. 6 ranked league has garnered 28 bids, an average of 3.5 per season. The MVC is 15-12 against the other top-8 leagues this season. The only leagues with more than the MVC’s four top-40 teams are the Big Ten and the Pac-10.
-The team to win the first set has won each of Creighton’s last 15 matches, and 24 of its past 25 contests against MVC competition. Since the start of the six-team format in 1995, the first-set winner has won 61 of 74 matches (.824) at the MVC Tournament, including all four this weekend.
-Northern Iowa is 44-7 all-time at McLeod Center. Besides Creighton in 2007, the only other MVC team to beat the Panthers in their new home is Wichita State, which has done so twice. In that 2007 win over Northern Iowa, Creighton became the only team in history to overcome a 2-0 deficit and beat the Panthers in Cedar Falls. Current Creighton seniors Lauren Bloemke and Allie Oelke both started that match.
-Northern Iowa has won 21 straight home matches dating to early 2009.
-Northern Iowa has posted back-to-back 18-0 regular-seasons in MVC play. The last team to beat the Panthers in the regular-season was Creighton, which swept UNI in Omaha to end the 2008 campaign.
-There are numerous connections between the athletic departments Creighton and Northern Iowa.
Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen is a UNI grad.
New Creighton men’s basketball coach Greg McDermott played at and was a head coach at UNI. McDermott’s son, freshman Doug McDermott, was released from a letter-of-intent at UNI to play for Creighton, and has been named MVC Newcomer of the Week each of the first two weeks of the young basketball season. Additionally, men’s basketball assistant coach Darian DeVries’ played hoops at UNI and his sister, Jodi, was a second-team all-MVC middle blocker at UNI.
Creighton sports information director and volleyball contact Rob Anderson worked in the media relations office at Northern Iowa from 1998-2001, serving as volleyball contact his final two years.
Last but certainly not least, Creighton head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth spent part of her youth growing up in nearby Waterloo, Iowa.
-Creighton had four players with 10 or more kills on Thursday (Laurel Sanford, Heather Thorson, Alicia Runge and Karisa Almgren), just the third time all season it has done that. Creighton previously accomplished the feat on both Oct. 8 vs. Missouri State and Nov. 19 vs. Evansville when Sanford, Allie Oelke, Runge and Almgren turned the trick.
-Nayka Benitez moved into Creighton’s all-time top-10 in career digs thanks to her 20 digs on Thursday and 33 more on Friday. She now owns 972 in her career to rank ninth in school history. Making her feat all the more impressive is the fact that she is in just her second year with the program.
-The 33 digs by Nayka Benitez against Wichita State included 16 in the second set alone. Benitez has now recorded 30 or more digs in three career matches. Benitez did it twice last year in back-to-back matches, becoming the only Bluejay to do so in consecutive contests.
Only some of CU’s previous liberos, Bianca Rivera (4) and Janeen Piller (4), have done it more.
-Allie Oelke had six digs last night, giving her 87 in seven career MVC Tournament matches. That’s the most in school history in league tourney action. In addition, Oelke’s 274 career attack attempts at the MVC Tournament is also school record.
-Karisa Almgren reached double-figures for the fifth time on the season with 10 kills on Thursday vs. Drake. Creighton is 7-1 when Almgren has nine or more kills this fall, including three of Creighton’s last four matches.
-Named first-team all-MVC on Thursday morning, Megan Bober proved her worth with a solid all-around showing later that night. She had 48 assists, five digs, five kills and four blocks. The four blocks give her 98 on the season, and continue to lead the team. Last night Bober had 43 assists, 11 digs, eight kills and three blocks.
Last season she became the first player in Bluejay history to record 100 blocks and 100 assists in the same season, a feat she has repeated this season. She ranks second nationally among setters in blocks per set, trailing only Cal All-American Carli Lloyd.
-Julianne Mandolfo’s three aces vs. Wichita State tied a school-record for an MVC Tournament match, done three times previously. Nayka Benitez’s 33 digs vs. Wichita State were the most in CU history for an MVC Tournament match.
As far as single-tournament records, Mandolfo’s five aces this weekend are a school-record, while Benitez’s 49 digs are as well.
In terms of career marks in MVC Tournament play, Benitez has tied a school-record with five aces, while Allie Oelke owns records for attack attempts (274) and digs (87) and double-doubles (4).