OMAHA, Neb. — For the fifth straight fall, the Creighton Volleyball team has been picked to win the BIG EAST Conference in a preseason vote of league coaches. In addition, Lydia Dimke, Taryn Kloth, Jaali Winters and Brittany Witt were each named to the BIG EAST’s Preseason All-Conference team, with Dimke taking home Preseason Player of the Year honors.
The three-time defending league champs, Creighton was the unanimous selection to take the title as coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team or their own student-athletes. The Bluejays return five starters and 11 letterwinners from a 29-7 team that won the BIG EAST regular-season and tournament titles last fall while reaching a fifth straight NCAA Tournament. The Bluejays ended their season by making their first Elite Eight appearance in program history and finished the year ranked No. 9 in the final AVCA poll.
Creighton received a maximum nine first-place votes in the poll and led the way with 81 points, outdistancing a Butler team that received 66 points to earn the runner-up nod. Marquette nabbed the remaining vote for first place and was third with 62 points. The rest of the poll consisted of Xavier (51), Villanova (46), St. John’s (43), DePaul (36), Seton Hall (35), Georgetown (21) and Providence (9).
Creighton’s preseason prognosis of first place marks the 14th 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 23 seasons (19 in the MVC, four in the BIG EAST), Creighton has improved its preseason ranking 10 times, been ranked correctly eight times, and dropped from preseason expectations just five times. Notably, 12 of Creighton’s 14 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.
Eight schools were represented on the 12-person Preseason All-BIG EAST Team, with Creighton (4) and Marquette (2) the only clubs with multiple selections.
A senior from Ham Lake, Minn., Dimke returns as the BIG EAST Player of the Year after ranking second nationally in assists (1,454) last year en route to 2016 BIG EAST Player of the Year accolades. Dimke was named a Third Team All-American by the AVCA and led the league’s setters in both assists (11.36) and digs (2.67) per set last fall. She is CU’s fourth different Preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year in the last five years, joining Kelli Browning (2013), Jess Bird (2015) and Jaali Winters (2016).
Kloth averaged 3.20 kills per set on .277 hitting as the Sioux Falls, S.D., native collected First Team All-BIG EAST acclaim last fall. The rising junior hit .339 and posted a team-high 210 kills in BIG EAST action a year ago.
A junior from Ankeny, Iowa, Winters earned First Team All-BIG EAST honors in both 2015 and 2016 after leading the Bluejays in kills both campaigns. Winters was named MVP of the 2016 BIG EAST Championships and earned All-America honors each of the past two seasons. Winters averaged 3.61 kills per set last season while also topping all BIG EAST attackers with 2.90 digs per set.
Witt led Creighton with 4.09 digs per set last season. Her 524 digs paced all league freshmen and helped her earn AVCA East Region Freshman of the Year honors. The libero also ranked third on the team with 29 aces. The sophomore from Omaha spent two weeks in May with USA Volleyball’s top collegiate team in a trip to Thailand.
The Bluejays will report on Monday, Aug. 7, and begin practice a day later in preparation for next Friday’s Blue-White Scrimmage at 5:00 pm. The regular-season starts Aug. 25 at the Husky Invitational with a match against Saint Mary’s in Seattle, Wash.
Creighton will host 11 regular-season home matches, including contests against four NCAA Tournament qualifiers from a year ago, in 2017. To inquire about season tickets, call (402) 280-JAYS.