OMAHA, Neb. — The five-time defending league champion Creighton Volleyball program has been picked to finish second in the BIG EAST Conference in a preseason poll of league coaches. The Bluejays were tabbed second despite five BIG EAST regular-season titles, five conference tournament titles and a 95-5 overall record against league foes since the start of the 2014 campaign.
Bluejay seniors Megan Ballenger, Madelyn Cole and Brittany Witt were each named to the BIG EAST’s Preseason All-Conference Team. It’s the third straight season Witt has been recognized with such an accolade. This year marks the seventh straight season with multiple Bluejays named Preseason All-BIG EAST, and fifth in a row with at least three honorees.
Marquette was tabbed the preseason favorite by league coaches, earning eight first-place votes and 80 points overall. The Golden Eagles also boast the Preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year in senior outside hitter Allie Barber for the second consecutive fall. She’ll look to become the first Preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year to win the league’s top honor at year’s end since 2013.
Creighton was just behind Marquette in second place with the remaining two first-place votes and 73 points overall. St. John’s was third with 64 points. The rest of the poll consisted of Villanova (55), Butler (48), Georgetown (40), DePaul (27), Seton Hall (26), Xavier (23) and Providence (14). Per league rule, coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team or their own student-athletes with their preseason prognostications.
The Bluejays return three starters (plus libero Brittany Witt) and nine letterwinners from a 29-5 team that won the BIG EAST regular-season and tournament titles last fall while reaching a seventh straight NCAA Tournament. That team was also picked second in the preseason league poll before going 18-0 in league play and winning both matches en route to the title at the BIG EAST Championship. The Bluejays ended their season hosting matches in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season and finished the year ranked No. 13 in the final AVCA poll.
Creighton’s preseason prognosis of second place marks the 16th straight season of a top-five prediction in its league, after nine such accolades from the Missouri Valley Conference from 2004-12 before joining the BIG EAST in 2013. In the previous 25 seasons (19 in the MVC, six in the BIG EAST), Creighton has improved its preseason ranking 11 times, been ranked correctly nine times, and dropped from preseason expectations just five times. Notably, 14 of Creighton’s 16 previous teams under head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth have met or exceeded preseason poll predictions, and the two that didn’t dropped just a single slot.
Just six schools were represented on the 13-person Preseason All-BIG EAST Team, with Creighton, Marquette and St. John’s having three selections each .
Ballenger was a Second Team All-BIG EAST choice in 2018 when she averaged 2.53 kills and 0.87 blocks per set on .305 hitting. The Ankeny, Iowa, native is the team’s active leader in career kills (743) and blocks (268).
Cole was one of four women in the league to be named a unanimous Preseason All-BIG EAST choice, and the lone Creighton player with such an honor. The senior from Dallas, Texas, led the BIG EAST with 10.92 assists per set and was second in the league with 0.43 aces per set in 2018, helping her attain First Team All-BIG EAST acclaim.
A senior from Omaha, Witt led Creighton with 4.32 digs per set last season, and her 29 aces were second on the club. Her 1,534 career digs rank second in Bluejay history, and she’s the only Creighton player ever with three straight seasons of 500 or more digs. Witt was named First Team All-BIG EAST in 2017, when she was also BIG EAST Libero of the Year.
The Bluejays will report on Thursday, Aug. 8, and begin practice a day later in preparation for Aug. 17th’s Blue-White Scrimmage at 3:30 pm. The regular-season starts Aug. 30 at the Husker Invitational in Lincoln with a match against tournament host Nebraska.
Creighton will host 13 regular-season home matches, including a pair of home tournaments, in 2019. To inquire about season tickets, call (402) 280-JAYS.