Creighton coach: Fatigue may have led to loss

September 8, 2018

Creighton’s early statement was emphatic in front of an NCAA record crowd Thursday, but the CU players knew their chance at the program’s first-win over rival Nebraska hinged on their ability to handle NU’s response.

Don’t relinquish control. Don’t settle. Don’t relent.

The Bluejays talked about it at the break. They reinforced the message in team huddles. They maintained a positive demeanor throughout the night, too.

But once No. 14 Creighton started staggering and sputtering — as the Huskers began handling serves, and fortifying the net, and feeding star Mikaela Foecke, and building momentum — CU was not able to regain the precision that helped it win the first two sets.

No. 7 Nebraska took advantage and completed a thrilling comeback.

There were 14,022 fans — the largest regular-season crowd in NCAA volleyball history — on hand to witness the five-set bout, a 22-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-22, 15-10 Nebraska victory. A match that got flipped upside down right after the intermission, exactly what Creighton wanted to avoid.

“I think we took the foot off the pedal a little bit in that third set, and got a little tentative,” CU senior Jaali Winters said. “They stayed aggressive. That was the name of the game.”

Creighton led just once after halftime. It jumped ahead 1-0 to begin the fourth set, but that advantage was reversed two points later.

The Jays went from hitting .351 after two sets to finishing the match with an attack percentage just barely over .200.

Winters recorded 18 kills and senior Taryn Kloth finished with a career-high 26 kills — and they were dominant early. They had help, too.

There was a 7-0 run in Set 2 when CU looked as potent as ever.

Kloth smashed an over-pass. She assisted on the next kill with her feet out of bounds, setting up Winters for a kill. Brittany Witt’s one-handed dig helped CU secure a point. Winters dove to the ground to keep a rally alive and freshman Jaela Zimmerman, who had a career-high 10 kills, finished off the point. Then came back-to-back blocks.

But the Huskers eventually adjusted.

Winters had a certain swing technique that NU coach John Cook said he hadn’t seen on film, but they figured out how to slow her down. Kloth opened with eight kills on 10 attempts, but she cooled off.

Fatigue may have played a factor for CU, according to its coach. Nebraska’s serves improved as the match unfolded, and the Jays’ crisp passing game lost its consistency. The momentous at-the-net blocks by the Huskers changed the complexion as well, certainly — NU was officially credited with 4½ blocks in the third game, but so many more of the Jays’ attempts were tipped or misdirected.

Creighton just couldn’t answer. It had never been better positioned to beat NU. So the defeat stung.

But the disappointment can’t linger. Creighton plays a talented Iowa State team Friday at Sokol Arena.

“On an emotional level, it’s a big bummer,” coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “But that’s what leadership is, that’s what resiliency is. How we respond and how our leaders lead is going to be really critical. It’s a big challenge.”

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