Volleyball Upset at MVC Tournament by Redbirds

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Karisa Almgren (photo by MVC).
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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Senior Karisa Almgren had 13 kills and classmate Laurel Sanford a team-best eight blocks, but it wasn't enough as the fourth-seeded Creighton Volleyball team was upset by fifth-seeded Illinois State in the quarterfinal round of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Thursday.

Scores of the match in favor of Illinois State were 25-23, 23-25, 25-16, 25-15.

The Redbirds (18-13), which snapped a five-match losing skid to the Jays, advance into Friday's semifinal match against top-seeded and nationally-ranked Northern Iowa (30-1). Creighton, which reached the MVC Tournament semifinals in the previous five seasons, fell to 17-14 with a setback that likely ends the program's quest for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

"It was disappointing," said Creighton head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth. "We really struggled in different aspects of the match. Our Achilles heel was consistency throughout the year, and I think we saw that tonight. It was a situation where Illinois State played very well and we struggled and that led to the defeat."

Creighton fell behind 13-6 early in the first set behind a variety of attack errors. But Megan Bober served up a 9-0 run that included an ace and three Sanford block assists as CU went ahead 15-13. Illinois State scored the next three points to take a 16-15 lead and wouldn't trail the rest of the set. The score was tied eight times, including at 20-20, 22-22 and 23-23, before ISU scored on a block error and a LeighAnn Hranka kill to close out the set. Heather Thorson led CU with four kills in the set, while Bober, Brooke Boggs and Julianne Mandolfo each had six digs in the frame.

With the score tied at 14-all in the second set, the Redbirds scored four of the next five points to move ahead 18-15. Creighton came out of a timeout by scoring the next four points on Natalie Hackbarth's serve to retake a 19-18 lead. ISU got a sideout to tie the score at 19 before CU reeled off four points in a row. Almgren had two kills to start the run, which was continued by a Sanford kill and a Thorson block. The Jays took a 24-21 lead on a Leah McNary kill, then wasted a pair of set points before McNary's sixth kill of the night handed CU a 25-23 victory to even the match.

The third set got out of hand early, as Illinois State used an 11-0 run to go up 14-4 and the Jays never got within five the rest of the frame of an eventual 25-16 ISU victory.

The fourth set continued the wild momentum swings. After ISU surged to a 10-3 lead, Creighton answered to draw within 12-10. But the Redbirds showed their willpower with an 8-1 run themselves to go up 20-11 en route to an eventual 25-15 clinching victory.

Four Creighton players had eight or more kills, led by 13 from Almgren. Sanford had eight kills to go with her eight blocks, while McNary and Bober each had nine kills. Bober was just one kill shy of her 10th triple-double of the fall, finishing with 30 assists and 11 digs. Mandolfo, named MVC Libero of the Year earlier in the day, finished with a team-best 19 digs.

Creighton finished with 48 kills, three aces, 71 digs and 13.0 blocks while hitting .128.

Illinois State was paced by 14 kills from Shannon McGlaughlin, while fellow sophomore Hranka had 13 kills and 14 digs.  The Redbirds finished with 55 kills, nine aces, 73 digs and 8.5 blocks while hitting .182.

Despite the likely season-ending defeat, Booth had nothing but praise for her ninth Bluejay team.

"I really enjoyed the group," said Booth. "You always think of your seniors and what they bring to the program, and we're losing 2 great seniors in Laurel Sanford and Karisa Almgren. I feel badly for them. Losing is always really, really hard, but I hate for the seniors to go out on a match like this."

Booth also remained optimistic for the future, as the Jays will return 13 women from this year's team in 2012.

"We return a very good core, and have a good core coming in. It's about learning from experiences and getting better for the next time we get on the floor."

NOTES: Year-end statistical leaders were Laurel Sanford in kills (277), hitting percentage (.291) and blocks (144), Megan Bober in assists (778), Julianne Mandolfo in aces (32) and digs (693) ... Mandolfo's 693 digs and 5.92 digs per set are both CU single-season records, and her 693 digs rank second-most in MVC single-season history ... Creighton dropped to 6-13 all-time in MVC Tournament play ... This was the third time in the last five years the fifth seed upset the fourth seed ... Third-seeded Wichita State swept Indiana State in the first quarterfinal to advance to a semifinal match-up with second-seeded Missouri State ... Saturday's MVC Tournament final will be televised in Omaha on Cox Channel 2 at 6:37 pm.

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