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It's a soccer turnaround that defies deep analysis.
The players on Creighton's team say they are not doing anything drastically different during a six-game winning streak that has carried the Bluejays to the third round of the NCAA tournament than when they were struggling against teams that had never beaten them.
"As far as I'm concerned, it all comes down to I want to keep playing with these guys," Creighton midfielder Matt Wieland said.
Creighton can extend its season another game if it can defeat ninth-ranked Penn State when the teams meet Sunday at 1 p.m. in State College, Pa.
The No. 11 Bluejays advanced by eliminating Atlantic Coast Conference champion Duke 2-1 on the Blue Devils' field. Creighton's second win of the tournament improved it to 14-4-3 and left the Bluejays unbeaten since an Oct. 26 loss to Drake.
The Bulldogs had never beaten Creighton. Neither had Western Kentucky, which stunned the Bluejays 1-0 four days earlier. The two losses left Creighton 8-4-3 and had some observers wondering if this would be the season in which the Bluejays string of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances ended at 13.
Instead, Creighton closed the regular season with two wins, won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament with victories over Vanderbilt and Bradley, and then posted NCAA triumphs over Lafayette and Duke.
In its six-game winning streak, Creighton has allowed just one goal while scoring 14. The Bluejays tied a school record with five straight shutouts, then posted their first come-from-behind victory of the season in rallying from a 1-0 deficit against Duke.
"We're clicking at the right time," Creighton midfielder Jarod Tarver said. "Obviously, it was frustrating when we struggled. Now, everything is coming together and all parts of our game are clicking.
"To fight back and beat Duke like we did was unbelievable. They're the ACC champions and they have us down on their home field. We just came out and fought as hard as we could. This is just the perfect time to gel."
It's also a perfect time for Tarver and Kraus to get healthy. Kraus had been bothered by wrist and leg injuries, while Tarver missed four games with a hamstring pull. He came back to play one-third of the match against Lafayette, and played most of the Duke game. He scored the winning goal in the 67th minute.
"It was so frustrating being out and having to watch the guys play," Tarver said. "I actually was feeling pretty good right before the conference tournament, but then I reinjured my leg in practice. I was devastated. Fortunately, I've been able to come back and play."
Tarver's goal against Duke was his fifth, and he ranks third on the team in scoring with 16 points.
"It's great to have him back because he's been a good addition to the lineup," Kraus said. "You can see him getting healthier every day, and he really came thought big for us against Duke."
Kraus missed most of last season with a foot injury but made it back in the postseason.
"It drives you to try to get back," Kraus said. "You want to be a part of it, and it means a great deal when you do make it back and are able to contribute."
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