By Shehan Jeyarajah
After losing four of its first five matches to start Big 12 play, Baylor won its second conference match of the season on Wednesday night against Kansas State. This was the first home conference win of the season for Baylor after losing its first four home match. The Bears won 3-1 overall, 18-25, 29-27, 25-20, 25-20. With the win, Baylor moves to 10-13 on the season and 2-5 in conference play. Kansas State falls to 14-6 on the season and 2-5 in conference play.
After taking an early 3-2 lead in the first set, Baylor struggled to keep the momentum going. Immediately after the start, the Bears gave up a massive 8-2 run to fall behind 10-5 early. The Bears would never get closer than two after that. Kansas State then ended the opening set with four unanswered points. Kansas State hit .333 in the set compared to Baylor’s .000 thanks to the Bears having nine attack errors in the set.
The second set was competitive throughout. The Bears never took more than a two-point lead and the Wildcats never took more than a three-point lead. After being tied 23-23, the Bears and Wildcats traded points up to 27-27. After that, junior middle hitter Nicole Bardaji came up with a big kill and block to win the set, 29-27.
The third and fourth sets were dictated by big Baylor runs. After taking a slim 4-3 lead in the third set, Baylor went on a massive 8-1 run. Kansas State fought back to within two, but Baylor never succumbed. The Bears hit .143 for the set, but it was enough. The fourth set was close and the two teams stayed within two points for most of the set, but the Bears ended on a 10-5 run. The result was never in doubt.
Bardaji led Baylor with 13 kills and three blocks. Sophomore Laura Jones finished with 11 kills and 12 digs in the first double-double of her career. She added an ace and two blocks as well. Sophomore libero Mackenzie Mayo set a conference play high of 16 digs.
Freshman setter Morgan Reed started her first Big 12 conference match for Baylor against the Wildcats, her first match since Sept. 14 against Colorado. She finished with 41 assists, 13 digs, five kills and three blocks on a .214 hitting percentage in her first collegiate double-double.
“It was great to win,” Reed said after the match. “And it was awesome to play after working so hard for a chance. I think we really kept that one point and a time mentality well tonight.”
Redshirt freshman Sam Hill also got an opportunity to start in her first conference match. She responded with eight kills and seven blocks.
“We keep an eye on who is winning in practice,” head volleyball coach Jim Barnes said. “Whoever is winning in practice is going to get an opportunity to play. Morgan and Sam both played tremendously and looked poised in their first Big 12 match.”
Baylor set a season-high with ten service aces. The highest it had this season up until this point was seven.
The Bears also set a team conference high in blocks with 12.5 total team blocks, led by Hill’s seven. Out of nine players who played, six ended with at least two blocks.
Digging has been one of the biggest indicators of team success for Baylor this season. The Bears average almost two more digs per set when they win versus when they lose.
In this match, Baylor finished with 18.3 digs per set, well above its 14.3 digs per set average. Four different players finished with double figure blocks, and senior outside hitter Zoe Adom was close behind with nine digs.
“Serving tough, blocking and digging; these are the three elements that break an opponent down,” Barnes said. “If you look at the box score, we did those three things very well tonight.”
The Wildcats responded with 52 total errors against the Bears, including ten receiving errors. This was contrary to Baylor committing 38 total errors, including only two receiving errors.
“Our serve-receive was amazing tonight,” Bardaji said. “We knew we had to be consistent tonight and our serve-receive definitely showed up.”
Baylor volleyball will be on the road this Saturday to play at 1 p.m. against Texas Tech in Lubbock at the United Spirit Arena.