Kate Elman and Melanie Jereb are off to a fast start in their Creighton volleyball careers.
The true freshmen are making a name for themselves, each playing in every match so far this season.
Jereb, an outside hitter from Cary, Ill., has started every match and ranks third on the team in digs and kills and fourth in aces.
She was recently named Missouri Valley freshman of the week for the second time after amassing 32 kills, 35 digs, and 12 blocks in three games, helping her team go 3-1 in the stretch.
Those are impressive stats for a player who didn’t think she would see much action this season.
“I knew Creighton was a great program coming in and that they had a lot of strong upperclassmen,” Jereb said. “It was really unexpected for me to be on the court.”
Elman, a libero from Omaha Marian, has also contributed largely to the Jays’ 13-3 start.
She has 278 digs so far and is one of three players in the Missouri Valley to have 10 or more digs in every match. She is the only freshman in that group.
Elman had a slightly different mindset coming in, with the proverbial door being opened for her at the end of last season when Julianne Mandolfo, a two year starter at libero, transferred to Ohio State.
“Not every spot is guaranteed to you,” Elman said. “I came in with the mentality that if I work hard, good things will come.”
Good things have definitely come for both Elman and Jereb. Each brings something special to the team, said coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth.
“One of the things that really separates Kate is her leadership,” Booth said. “A lot of those things that usually you might see out of a junior or senior, Kate does very naturally.”
“As a libero, you have to be very vocal and you have to be a good back-row leader. So I like to think of myself as the leader in the back row, making sure everybody is in the right spot and making sure our defense is set.”
Booth also has high praise for Jereb, saying that she is “one of the best all-around players we’ve had in our program.”
Jereb and Elman each figure to play a key role at 7 p.m. Friday for the Jays as they face three-time defending league champion Northern Iowa at Sokol Arena.
UNI owns a 59-game Missouri Valley regular-season winning streak, and even as freshmen, Jereb and Elman know how they need to play to end the Panthers’ streak.
“The biggest key is to play consistent and play hard,” Jereb said. “Play the game we know we can and go out and give it our all.”
Booth believes that both players’ successful prep careers have only helped them with their transition to the NCAA.
“It does make that transition easier for a kid that has played at a high club and high school level against and with some of the kids that are going to top Division I programs,” Booth said.
Another valuable quality that the two bring to the team is a knowledge of how to win.
Jereb was an Illinois state runner-up in high school as well as a two-time AAU national champion.
Elman’s Omaha Marian squad won four metro titles and finished as the Nebraska state runners-up the past two seasons to one of the nation’s top programs, Papillion-La Vista South.
“Winning is what they know,” Booth said. “At the high school and at the club level, that’s all they’ve done is win. That’s huge for our program.”