The two All-American outside hitters who spent their careers elevating Creighton’s program to new heights did all they could Saturday to solve the blocking tactics of a well-prepared Washington squad.
And they did find an answer. But it was too late.
CU’s 2018 season came to a close in disappointing fashion Saturday night as the Jays (29-5) were swept at home in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Seniors Taryn Kloth and Jaali Winters combined to for an .042 hitting percentage, both neutralized in the same match for arguably the first time all year.
“When we were out of system, they had two huge 6-4 girls in front of us,” Kloth said. “They obviously set up a big block, but as hitters, we have to find a way around that.”
They did, eventually.
But they were trying to crawl out of an 0-2 hole while they switched up their strategy, and they weren’t ever able to knock the young Huskies back on their heels. Washington, which had just one senior in its lineup, secured the final five points of the match to win it 25-19, 25-21, 25-23 and advance to its sixth Sweet 16 in the last seven seasons.
“They definitely came to play. So did we,” Winters said. “It didn’t go our way.”
That was a difficult reality to accept for the Jays, who had every intention of making a deep NCAA run this month with Winters and Kloth leading the way.
The two veterans have been so integral in every milestone moment for the CU program over the last four years.
Winters is the all-time kills leader. Kloth is fourth. They’ve played in more NCAA tournament sets than anyone in school history.
They helped guide the Jays to their first Sweet 16 in 2015 and their first Elite Eight in 2016. Creighton had never hosted an NCAA tournament match before last year.
CU also attained the highest ranking in program history (No. 7) last season. It earned a fifth straight Big East regular season title earlier this month after going undefeated in league play for the second time in three seasons (the Jays have won the last five conference tournaments, too).
Their impact goes beyond the on-court achievements, though, coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said.
“They’re just really awesome young women,” she said.
The Jays hoped to have a couple more weeks to keep showcasing Kloth and Winters, too.
But Washington (20-12) had a plan — after scouting Creighton, the UW staff identified the preferred swings of CU’s talented duo and asked its players to do everything they could to take those shots away.
The Huskies recorded 12½ blocks in the first two sets alone. And in the third game, they had back-to-back blocks to force match point, which they clinched on sophomore Samantha Drechsel’s 14th kill.
The Jays were left wondering if they could have made adjustments sooner or if they could have been just a little more precise.
For the second straight year, their season ended at D.J. Sokol Arena in the second round of the NCAA tournament. And just like all postseason losses, it’ll sting for some time — but the transformative seniors don’t believe that’ll define their legacy.
“It hurts right now, but I know we’ll get through it,” Winters said. “Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”
Washington (20-12)……………25 25 25
At Creighton (29-5)…………….19 21 23
UW (kills-aces-blocks): Sanders 7-0-8, Niece 3-0-4, Powell 1-0-3, Dreschel 14-0-6, Bajema 9-0-3, Hoffman 6-0-1, McPherson 0-2-0, Bogomolova 0-1-0, Onosko 0-0-0, Julye 1-1-0. Totals: 41-4-25.
CU: Zumach 4-0-2, Winters 8-0-1, Roumeliotis 0-0-0, Cole 2-2-2, Ballenger 7-0-3, Hickman 4-1-4, Witt 0-1-0, Zimmerman 0-1-0, Bohnet 0-2-0, Kloth 11-0-3. Totals: 36-7-15.
Set assists: UW 39 (Powell 35, McPherson 3, Hoffman 1). CU 35 (Cole 31, Winters 2, Ballenger 1, Witt 1).
T: 1:37. A: 2,509.