Volleyball Falls at No. 12 Minnesota in NCAA Second Round

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Courtesy: Eric Francis

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- The most successful season in Creighton Volleyball history came to a close on Saturday, as the Bluejays lost in three sets to No. 12 Minnesota in second round action of the 2010 NCAA Volleyball Tournament. Scores of the match in favor of the Gophers were 25-19, 30-28, 25-20.

Creighton ends its season with a 21-12 record, including program-first appearances in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament final, the NCAA Tournament, and the program's first victory in the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota (26-8) won its ninth straight match, and 12th of 13, to advance to its eighth Regional in the past 12 years.

"Minnesota is a great team. I knew we'd have to battle hard," said Creighton head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth. "We purposefully didn't tell them about Minnesota's recent run of beating everyone. I knew we'd have to play stellar ball. I feel the same way tonight as last night, and I'm extremely proud of them.  I thought we competed with a great team. It has been a great season and I'm proud of these two (Karisa Almgren and Laurel Sanford) and this team. We've got a lot to be proud of."

The first set was closely contested, featuring 12 ties and seven lead changes. Creighton led much of the way, before Minnesota put together a crucial 5-0 run to go ahead 22-17. Minnesota hit .311 and finished 19 kills and 25 digs in the first set, including seven off the right arm of freshman Ashley Wittman. Creighton got three kills from Karisa Almgren in the opening set, while Nayka Benitez paced the defense with seven digs.

Creighton fell behind 15-10 in the second set before stunning the home crowd with a 7-1 run to retake the lead at 17-16. Creighton would also lead 21-19 and 22-21 before Minnesota scored three in a row to secure a pair of set point opportunities. A kill by Sanford, followed by a Sanford/Megan Bober double-block got the Jays back to even. Creighton would end up serving for the set at both 26-25 and 28-27, only to be turned away each time. The Gophers would eventually run off the final three points of the second set, winning 30-28 to take a 2-0 lead into the locker room.

Creighton's Sanford served a pair of aces during a 4-0 run in the third set to go ahead 18-16 late. The Jays then would lose the next five points, falling behind 21-18. Almgren put down a kill to get within 21-19, only to the Gophers score four of the final five points to finish the match.

Sanford had 12 kills and tied her career high with three aces to lead the Bluejays. Thorson had eight kills, and Almgren and Oelke each slammed seven kills. Benitez dug a team-best 19 balls, while Oelke had 12 digs. The Jays finished with 42 kills, three aces, 53 digs and seven blocks, hitting .175.

Minnesota freshmen Wittman and Tori Dixon led the Gophers offensively. Wittman had 19 kills, while Dixon had 12 kills. Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Jessica Granquist had a match-best 21 digs. Creighton contained All-American middle Lauren Gibbemeyer, holding the star senior to season-low .182 hitting and eight kills. Minnesota had 57 kills, no aces, 70 digs and seven blocks while hitting .275.

With today's win, Minnesota heads to Seattle, Wash., to play Friday in the Seattle Regional against the winner of tonight's North Carolina/California winner. Joining the Gophers in Seattle will be Nebraska and host Washington.

NOTES: Creighton was playing its third-straight top-20 team, having also played No. 11 Northern Iowa and No. 16 Iowa State in the past seven days ... With 19 digs on Saturday, Nayka Benitez finished as Creighton's season leader in digs with 537, six more than Julianne Mandolfo. Benitez also topped CU with 39 aces ... Alicia Runge led the Jays with 463 kills on the year ... Laurel Sanford had 115 blocks to lead Creighton, one more than Megan Bober. Sanford also had a team-high .262 hitting percentage ... Creighton's 18.94 digs per set figures to rank it second in the year-end stats nationally ... Creighton loses seniors Nayka Benitez, Alicia Runge, Allie Oelke and Lauren Bloemke from this year's team ... Allie Oelke finished her career with 1,382 career digs, 10 shy of Janeen Piller's school record of 1,392.

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