The Creighton volleyball team is coming off the finest season in program history in 2012.
The Bluejays earned their first national ranking, won the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in school history.
That was all the official stuff. What the Bluejays did Friday in beating national power Nebraska in a spring exhibition match is unofficial, but will be a source of pride and likely will come up in recruiting.
Neither team was sharp, but Creighton was two points better for a 25-17, 22-25, 27-25, 20-25, 15-13 victory in front of 2,601 fans at the NU Coliseum.
You can call it an exhibition, but Nebraska coach John Cook argued with the referee over a call early in the fifth set and kept making substitutions to try to find a spark late.
Creighton has never beaten Nebraska in 14 matches during the regular season. The teams are not scheduled to play this season.
“I think any time you come into the Coliseum and play at Nebraska and you come out with a win you’re excited,” Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “I think the thing I was most pleased with at 13-13 (in the fifth set), with a huge crowd, when Nebraska kind of had the momentum, for us to step up and win ... we always talk about swinging to win a match. We’re always building an arsenal so that we can go into the fall and say, ‘Hey, we’ve been in this situation.'’’
Katie Neisler, who will probably be the team’s libero this fall, led the Bluejays with 13 kills. Kellie Browning, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker, added 12 kills and nine blocks. Two Creighton players missed the match because of illness and injury, so 2012 senior Brooke Boggs played and had 16 digs.
Lauren Smith, a freshman middle blocker and Lincoln Pius X graduate, had nine kills and six blocks for Creighton, including the kill that gave the Bluejays the final lead in the fifth set.
Smith never got to play at the Coliseum when the state high school tournament was played there, so Friday was special.
“It was very exciting just to have people from home saying, ‘I’m going to wear blue this time because you’re coming back,’” Smith said. “Ever since I was little I was always in love with volleyball and this is where it happened. I’m glad I was able to come out and prove myself and with the help of my team not play scared, but put my heart out there.”
Creighton was one of the top blocking teams in the country last season and outblocked the Huskers 16-9. Creighton had a .184 hitting percentage, while NU hit .144.
“Creighton played really well and you see a team that has three defensive specialists out there and an experienced setter, and they made us pay,” Cook said.
Kelsey Robinson had 21 kills to lead Nebraska for the third straight match. Kelsey Fien had her best match with 12 kills. Amber Rolfzen got the start at right-side hitter again, but Morgan Broekhuis replaced her in the third set and finished with 10 kills.
Nebraska was playing its third exhibition match this spring and final one at home.
The fourth and final spring match will be next week at Wichita State.
While Nebraska will play its matches next season at the Devaeny Sports Center, the Huskers may play their exhibition matches at the Coliseum again next season while another phase of construction at the Devaney Center is finished.
Nebraska had won 11 straight spring exhibition matches dating to a tie with Arizona State in 2010.
Now the Huskers are working with an inexperienced setter in Alexa Strange, who hasn’t found great timing with the middle blockers yet, and a freshman outside hitter at libero.
“I’m just a little disappointed that some of them didn’t compete better,” Cook said. “I can understand making aggressive errors, but making 15 serving errors and 37 attack errors is just bonehead."