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No. 4 Huskers Ready for First Ranked Opponent as No. 16 Creighton Visits Devaney

September 05, 2023

No. 4 Nebraska is off to a 5-0 start and hasn’t dropped a set, but all five matches have been against unranked opponents. That changes on Wednesday when No. 16 Creighton visits the Devaney Center.

The annual in-state rivalry match returns to Lincoln for the first time since 2019 after a COVID-19 hiatus and back-to-back matches at CHI Health Center Omaha. The Huskers beat Omaha last week at Volleyball Day in Nebraska and will be looking for the in-state sweep on Wednesday night.

“We’ll treat it like any other match, but one of our goals is to be state champs,” Coach John Cook said. “We played Omaha, I think Omaha plays Creighton next week, so we’ll have a state champion this year. That’s one of our goals.” 

Creighton is 5-1 with a win over Purdue, currently ranked 20th, and a five-set loss to unranked Duke during the opening weekend. The Bluejays beat Ball State in five sets, LSU in three and Northern Iowa in four over the weekend to win the Bluejay Invitational. Nebraska is the second of three Big Ten teams Creighton will face this season as the Bluejays will travel to Minnesota on Sept. 16 to close out their nonconference slate.

“It’s been amazing,” Cook said of the program’s rise. “They’re very good. They play a lot of great teams in the nonconference. I think their challenge is when they get in the Big East, they’re not playing the level of teams that you’re playing in the Big Ten every week, or some of the other conferences … It’s kind of standard every year that they’re ranked top 10; they’re 15th or something like that right now. So it’s pretty amazing for the state of Nebraska to have two top-10 volleyball teams, or top-20.”

Nebraska has never lost to Creighton, but the Bluejays have pushed Nebraska to five sets in two of the last four meetings as Creighton has risen to perennial top-25 status under coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth.

“We’ve had several five-game matches and it’s great volleyball,” Cook said. “It has become a rivalry and it’s a great in-state and it’s great for our fans and for all the high school kids and everything to see, ‘Wow, these are two great teams here in Nebraska.’ And again, I don’t want to discount UNO; they’re going to have a great season, they’re just not quite at that level yet, but they’re making progress too.”

Nebraska and Creighton last facd each other during a closed-door exhibition back in the spring, though both teams were still learning a lot about themselves and sorting out their lineups rather than going all out for the win. That will change on Wednesday.

“We scrimmaged them in the spring and I’m sure they’ve worked on things and so have we, so I’m sure there are going to be a lot of battles going on in that game,” freshman Harper Murray said. “Norah [Sis] is a great player, so I’m sure she’ll bring a lot … Creighton has a great setter and her and Norah have a really good connection, so I think for them that’s going to be really important for a good battle against us. But they have great ball control and a lot of those girls have been there for a while.”

Sis, the junior outside hitter from Papillion and reigning Big East Player of the Year, is averaging 4.13 kills per set and 3.35 digs per set while hitting off junior setter Kendra Wait, the reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Week and two-time honorable mention AVCA All-American. Sis is top-15 nationally in attacks per set and took home Big East Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, though she’s only hitting .208 this season through 23 sets.

“She’s a workhorse,” Cook said of Sis. “She carries a big load, plays six rotations and she gets a lot of sets. A lot of their points go through her and if you look at her stats this weekend, they played three matches and she’s getting 50, 60 sets a night. That’s a lot and so she’s a workhorse and she does a great job.”

Creighton’s top attacker so far this season has been sophomore pin Ava Martin who is averaging 4.48 kills per set on .297 hitting. She earned the first Big East Offensive Player of the Week award as the Bluejays have swept the honor through the first two weeks of the season.

Creighton is hitting .253 as a team while holding opponents to .176. Libero Ellie Bolton is leading the defensive effort with 4.78 digs per set. Middle blockers Kiana Schmitt and Ann Marie Remmes are both averaging north of 1.0 blocks per set as well.

“You just can’t underestimate them,” sophomore middle blocker and Lincoln native Bekka Allick said. “Regardless of how they’ve ended up in the past seasons, Creighton brings it to us every year … Creighton is no joke, and especially when you’re neighbors, there’s always an extra tension. You see these upsets all the time with schools that maybe don’t have the biggest name. They always bring it for the next-door neighbor.”

First serve on Wednesday at the Devaney Center is set for 7 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network.

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