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NCAA Creighton Kansas Volleyball

Creighton's Taryn Kloth, Jaali Winters and Marysa Wilkinson (from left) celebrate a point during a second-round NCAA Tournament match against Kansas in 2016. The Jays advanced to the Elite Eight last season.

OMAHA — Marysa Wilkinson recently saw a picture of Creighton's home match against Kentucky from earlier this season.

There are some good memories from that image. In front of a record and sellout crowd of 2,578 at D.J. Sokol Arena, the Bluejays swept the Wildcats in an NCAA Tournament-type atmosphere.

Now the Bluejays are looking for a similar atmosphere this week. For the first time in program history, Creighton is hosting an NCAA Tournament regional.

Creighton will play Coastal Carolina in Friday's opening round (7:05 p.m.), and Wilkinson wants to see every seat filled.

"I hope so," the Creighton senior middle blocker and Lincoln Southwest graduate said. "I really hope the crowd looks like that (Kentucky match)."

The state will own a part of the NCAA spotlight this weekend. Creighton is hosting. Nebraska is hosting.

"It's amazing, and not just at the Division I, but there are so many teams that are in nationals right now," Wilkinson said.

There is plenty of buzz surrounding the Bluejays. They're playing in their sixth straight NCAA Tournament. They just wrapped up a fourth straight Big East championship. Just a year ago, Creighton made its deepest run, reaching the NCAA Elite Eight in Austin, Texas. Most of those players are back.

Determined for greater success in 2017, Creighton is 25-6 and has won 14 of 15 matches entering the tournament. A resume including wins over Kentucky (the No. 4 national seed in the NCAAs) and then-No. 3 Washington played a big part in the Jays locking down the No. 9 national seed.

The Jays are home, and the key, according to coach Kirsten Bernthal-Booth, will be to take advantage of it.

"This has been a goal that we've set," said Bernthal-Booth, who owns 316 wins in 15 years at Creighton. "We've set it for a couple years, so to reach it is good.

"I think our atmosphere's up there with the best in the country when we pack this place out, and so we're hopeful it will be a packed house. It's big for the program. I think it's big for not only this group, it's big for the groups that came before us, before this group that built to this moment, and I think it's big for a future."

Creighton did earn a national seed — No. 16 — two years ago, but the Bluejays did not put in a bid earlier in the season to host. Instead, they traveled to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

For Wilkinson and fellow seniors Lydia Dimke and Kenzie Crawford, playing at Sokol Arena this week provides a chance to create some lasting images on the home floor.

"From my freshman year to now, it's like crazy to believe that we are even on our path, hosting now," said Wilkinson, who was named to the All-Big East first team this year. "It's great to be a part of the rising tradition and I wouldn't change it for anything."

Though Creighton is hosting this weekend, a Sweet 16 spot, likely at Penn State, is far from a given. This weekend's regional in Omaha is the only four-team pod in the NCAA Tournament that features three ranked teams — No. 15 Creighton, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 25 Missouri State.

Briefly

Friday's match will be a homecoming of sorts for Coastal Carolina junior and Lincoln Pius X graduate Sara Boothe.

Boothe was club teammates at different times with Wilkinson and Creighton's Brittany Witt, an Omaha Marian graduate.

"I'm super-excited to be able to play against her and see her again," Witt said. "I think it will be fun."

Boothe is Coastal Carolina's top setter.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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