Huskers, Jays will have to prove it after landing in top 10 of preseason volleyball coaches poll

Huskers, Jays will have to prove it after landing in top 10 of preseason volleyball coaches poll
World-Herald News Service

The state of Nebraska was home to two top-10 Division I volleyball programs after the preseason coaches poll was released Wednesday afternoon.

Nebraska, which must replace four starters off last year’s national semifinalist team, checked in at No. 5. Creighton came in at No. 9, the same place the Bluejays finished last season after reaching the regional finals for the first time in program history.

The No. 9 ranking matches the highest in Creighton history. The Jays were ranked 18th to begin last season.

“It’s good for the program. There’s no question about that,” coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said shortly after the preseason rankings were released. “But it really is about where you finish. It’s not going to be something we discuss. We’re talking about getting better in the gym each time we have an opportunity.”

Texas, last year’s NCAA runner-up, narrowly edged defending national champion Stanford for the preseason No. 1 ranking despite receiving fewer first-place votes. The Cardinal were marked No. 1 on 35 coaches’ ballots to 25 for the Longhorns.

Washington, which fell in straight sets to the Huskers in last year’s regional final, was No. 3, followed by No. 4 Minnesota, which, like NU, must replace several key starters from a national semifinalist team. The Huskies and Gophers each received two first-place votes.

No. 6 Penn State, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 8 Kansas and No. 10 BYU joined Creighton to round out the top 10.

Seven Big Ten teams joined the Huskers in the poll, as well as three nonconference opponents. NU opens the season at the VERT Challenge in Gainesville, Florida, facing No. 18 Oregon on Aug. 25 and No. 12 Florida on Aug. 26. Two weeks later, the Huskers host No. 13 UCLA on Sept. 8-9 at the Devaney Center.

Nebraska is scheduled to play 14 matches against teams in the preseason poll, including 10 of its first 18.

In Booth’s mind, the preseason attention and hype for Creighton is based mostly on last season’s Big East championship and regional final appearance.

The Jays do return five starters. Setter Lydia Dimke was a third-team All-American and last season’s Big East player of the year. Their top two outside hitters, Jaali Winters and Taryn Kloth, were honorable mention All-Americans.

But they still have to prove themselves again.

“I think we have pieces to be really good. Now it’s kind of putting the puzzle together,” Booth said. “I think we have talent to compete at the highest level in the country.”

The Jays have already been picked to win the Big East — the national preseason poll at had them ranked No. 8 in the country. And they’ll be tested right away.

CU won’t play No. 5 Nebraska in the regular season this year. The in-state rivals have met in September the last three years, with the Huskers knocking off Creighton in four sets last season.

But the Jays will go up against No. 3 Washington, No. 8 Kansas, No. 14 Kentucky and No. 25 Purdue before the middle of September. USC, Iowa State, Pittsburgh and Wichita State are on the schedule as well; each received at least seven votes in Wednesday’s preseason coaches poll.

“We’re definitely not going to sneak up on people,” Booth said. “But I also think our team believes in themselves more than they did maybe a year or two ago. … This group knows they can beat any team we walk on the court with.”

World-Herald staff writer Jon Nyatawa contributed to this report.