MILWAUKEE — Down two sets to one, Creighton stormed back to continue its Big East dominance.
The 17th-ranked Bluejays rallied for a 22-25, 25-18, 23-25, 25-17, 15-11 win, capturing their fourth consecutive Big East volleyball tournament title Saturday.
Creighton, which also won the regular-season title, is the first team since Notre Dame to win four consecutive Big East championships — the Irish accomplished that feat from 1995 to 1998.
Junior Taryn Kloth, who had 14 kills in both the semifinals and finals, was named MVP of the tournament. CU teammates Marysa Wilkinson and Brittany Witt also were named to the all-tournament team.
Creighton (25-6), which was swept by Marquette in Milwaukee during the regular season, dug itself an early hole again.
The Bluejays led 12-7 in the first set, but the Golden Eagles answered with a 6-1 run. Tied 21-21, Marquette scored four of the next five points, ending the set on a kill by Big East player of the year Allie Barber.
Marquette kept momentum as it led 7-2 in the second set. But Creighton won the next six points and didn’t trail the rest of the set. Kloth and Megan Ballenger combined for nine kills in that set.
The Eagles led most of the third set as they were up 18-12 after a Hope Werch kill. CU scored the next six points — Kloth, Ballenger, Wilkinson and Lydia Dimke had kills during that run — but the Jays couldn’t recapture the lead. With Marquette up 24-23, Barber ended the set with a kill.
CU was up 12-11 in the fourth when Wilkinson delivered three straight kills to give the Jays some separation. Ballenger had four kills during CU’s final six points to force a deciding set.
With the match on the line, the Bluejays never trailed as a 6-0 run gave them a 9-3 lead. Creighton remained at least three points ahead before Jaali Winters ended it with her 12th kill on the day.
Winters was one of five Bluejays with at least 10 kills as Creighton displayed a balanced attack at the net once again.
Ballenger led the way with 16 kills and a .481 hitting percentage, while Wilkinson and Kloth each added 14. Dimke had a triple-double with 53 assists, 14 digs and 10 kills, while Witt had a match-high 34 digs.
Jenna Rosenthal had 18 kills on .410 hitting for Marquette, with Anna Haak adding 17 kills and 22 digs. Barber also finished with 18 kills, but she needed 71 swings and hit .169. As a team, Creighton outhit the Eagles .281-.194.
Creighton has won 14 of its last 15 matches and will find out its postseason destination on Sunday. The selection show will begin at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. Fans are invited to join CU players and coaches at the The Session Room on Sunday night for a watch party.
Creighton (25-6)…….22 25 23 25 15
Marquette (22-9)…….25 18 25 17 11
CU (kills-ace-blocks): Dimke 10-1-2, Winters 12-0-1, Wilkinson 14-0-0, Roumeliotis 0-1-0, Ballenger 16-0-4, Hickman 5-0-2, Witt 0-1-0, Bohnet 1-1-0, Kloth 14-0-1. Totals 72-3-12.
MU: Geoffroy 0-0-0, Speckman 2-0-1, Werch 5-0-2, Rosenthal 18-1-3, Haak 17-2-1, Orf 5-0-3, Konovodoff 0-1-0, Barber 18-0-2, Mosher 1-0-0, Rose 0-0-0, Kastrup 0-0-1. Totals 66-4-13.
Set assists: CU 66 (Dimke 53, Witt 7, Winters 3, Bohnet 2, Roumeliotis 1); MU 60 (Speckman 47, Konovodoff 5, Werch 4, Rose 3, Geoffroy 1).
Martin Krampelj’s career-high 20 points leads Jays to win
Creighton’s much-improved center spent the offseason experimenting with different ways to athletically dart through the paint and finish at the rim.
Martin Krampelj just hasn’t been given much space to work.
Not like Saturday, anyway.
With SIU Edwardsville’s primary defenders glued to the Jays’ shooters on the perimeter, the lane remained relatively open for CU’s big men to attack. And Krampelj certainly took advantage of that.
He made nine of his 10 shots — five were dunks — and finished with a career-high 20 points, showing off the agility and explosiveness that he’s displayed in countless practice situations as the Jays cruised to a 103-66 victory before an announced crowd of 15,607 at the CenturyLink Center.
“I was just reading how they were playing,” he said.
Krampelj didn’t waste any time Saturday, rolling to the rim on the first possession of the game and rising up for a powerful two-handed slam.
It was exactly the type of play off a ball screen that Creighton (5-1) used to torch opposing defenses all last season. And even though Krampelj doesn’t have the same measurables to completely recreate the constant above-the-rim threat that Justin Patton provided for CU last year, the 6-foot-9 sophomore can still stress a defense in a similar manner.
He proved that Saturday.
A couple of times, Krampelj slipped out of a screen, rolled toward the basket and, all in one motion, caught a lob pass and laid it in for a bucket. He sealed off a defender in the post and got himself a layup. He called for the ball after settling into a clearing inside the paint — then turned and finished with a one-handed jam.
“Some of those reads are beginning to come more naturally, and that wasn’t the case even early in the practice portion of our season,” CU coach Greg McDermott. “I told everybody that (Krampelj’s) the most improved player (on our team) from last year to this year — and I think everybody’s seeing what I’m talking about now.”
And it’s not just Krampelj’s offense, either.
He’s often one of the most vocal players on the other end of the floor, shouting out the location of a screen or boisterously relaying his position in the paint so the guards know which way to shade ball handlers if they get beat. Just that seemingly simple element of the game — communication — is an example of Krampelj’s growth, according to McDermott.
Then you consider, too, how effective Krampelj can be when he’s helping defend a ball screen, keeping the opposing guard in the backcourt long enough for the defense to reset. Or how active he is when double-teaming in the post — he had a steal there Saturday.
“He’s really come a long way,” McDermott said. “And thank goodness. Because with Toby (Hegner) gone, if Martin wasn’t playing at the level he is, we’re not 5-1 right now.”
Hegner has missed the last week with a high ankle sprain. He’s likely going to be out Friday when CU travels to face No. 17 Gonzaga.
So the Bluejays will lean on Krampelj again, perhaps similarly to portions of the game Saturday.
His production was important, especially as Creighton sputtered a bit in the first half. The Jays committed seven turnovers and shot just 4 of 14 from 3-point range — so their lead over the team picked last in the Ohio Valley Conference was only 10 points at halftime.
But the Cougars (1-4) had no answer for Krampelj, who even unveiled some of his creativity at times. With the shot clock winding down, he dribbled twice to his left before galloping to the rim for a two-handed dunk. He utilized a Euro-step later in the game.
CU did increase its energy level defensively out of halftime and it soon began finding openings in the SIUE zone defense (the Jays shot 69.2 percent after the break). But Krampelj’s big day stood out to everyone afterward.
His emphatic two-handed dunk in transition — off a behind-the-back pass from junior Ronnie Harrell — gave the Jays a 49-33 lead about 90 seconds into the second half. Their advantage only grew from there.
“He’s getting better every game,” Harrell said. “We’re in his ear. We watch him do good things for us every day in practice. … I’m just happy to see his improvement.”