Melanie Jereb has spent countless hours with her Creighton University volleyball teammates during her first two seasons on the Omaha, Neb., campus.
But a journey of nearly 3,000 miles in the spring brought the athletes even closer.
Coming off of a season in which they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, Creighton embarked on an eight-day, three-city tour in May to Nicaragua, where the team played volleyball, went on sightseeing tours and performed several days of community service projects, which were especially rewarding.
“We got to learn a lot more about each other,” said Jereb, a Cary-Grove graduate. “You got to see each other in a different light.”
Among the team’s projects were donating school supplies, sports equipment and clothing at different locations and playing games, reading and teaching English to local children at schools. The experience offered a range of emotions, according to Jereb, and allowed the team to see how few resources some families have in Nicaragua.
“Some of our teammates were crying,” Jereb said. “Some had groups of kids around them, all laughing. You see what a difference school supplies, sports equipment and clothing can make to people. It was an amazing experience for us as a team.”
This season, the Bluejays hope to experience another level of success.
On Wednesday, Jereb and her teammates were voted the favorite to win the Big East Conference by the league’s coaches. The Bluejays received five of the league’s 10 first-place votes, edging Marquette, last season’s conference champion.
Earlier this month, Creighton was the only Big East team among the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s preseason Top 25 poll, ranking No. 23.
“We have a ton of experience, and you can feel that when we play,” said Jereb, a junior right-side hitter. “We want to be No. 1 in the Big East and win the conference tournament. And there’s no reason we can’t be in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight and compete with those traditional powerhouses.”
While helping the team to a 23-9 record and a runnerup finish in the Big East Tournament, Jereb contributed 1.62 kills and 2.41 digs per set, along with 22 service aces.
Late in the season, she was moved across the court to the right-side hitter position, which continues to be an adjustment during preseason workouts.
“I feel more comfortable on the other side because I’ve had 10 times more swings over there,” she said. “But I feel my (overall) offense has improved.”
Moving to the right side has allowed specific sets to be tailored to her in the offense, said Jereb, one of 12 letterwinners returning this fall.
Jereb also contributed 66 total blocks while helping the Bluejays lead the nation in that category with 3.06 per set.
“It’s something we work on every single day,” Jereb said. “We have hand signals for blocking and plays for blocking. It works so well because we talk so much on the court.”
Rosch earns All-MVC: Cary-Grove grad Ashley Rosch earned one of six spots on the Missouri Valley Conference’s Preseason All-MVC volleyball team on Thursday.
Rosch, a junior outside hitter at Illinois State, led the team in kills (389) and points (441.5) last season while helping her team to a 19-13 record. The Redbirds ranked third in a preseason poll of MVC coaches, earning three first-place votes.
In her previous two seasons, Rosch has earned postseason All-MVC first-team honors and was the league’s Freshman of the Year in 2012.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.