Video by Elisabeth Tharp | Broadcast Reporter, Story by Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
In front of an energetic record crowd of 3,617 at the Ferrell Center, No. 15 Florida State held off Baylor volleyball in four sets 25-20, 12-25, 25-21, 25-22 to take the team’s opener of the Hampton Inn & Suites Baylor Invitational.
The record setting crowd toppled the previous record of 3,044 set on Oct. 2, 2013, something that redshirt senior outside hitter Katie Staiger and the rest of the Bears appreciated.
“We absolutely love it,” Staiger said. “It’s awesome playing in front of so many people. It’s awesome to have those people there and know that Baylor is behind us.”
The crowd wasn’t the issue for Baylor. It was the size and strength of the Seminoles but also its mistakes, particularly at the service line, that drew displeasure from head coach Ryan McGuyre.
“Extremely disappointed [about the service game]. We addressed it a little bit, but you give them a chance if you’re giving away free points,” McGuyre said. “Even in that first set, we gave away too many free points offensively. You can’t do that and win matches against good teams because you’re fighting back and forth. To give that many away is just not typical. It’s something we’ve got to be a lot sharper at.”
After a topsy-turvy opening set that saw 12 ties and four lead changes, Florida State gained control late, ending the first on a 14-7 run and taking it 25-20. The Seminoles forced freshman outside hitter Yossiana Pressley and Staiger into tough attacks, working around the taller Seminole block, ultimately leading to errors on the attack.
Baylor found its confidence in the second as well some cracks in the Seminoles defense. The Bears grabbed an 8-7 lead following an attack error from Florida State and never looked back, using a 14-1 run to seize control. The run was sparked by some nifty serving from junior outside hitter Aniah Philo. She moved the ball and the defense around the court, mixing in spins and keeping Florida State off balance. When the Seminoles were able to return serve, they were forced into tough passes that allowed the Baylor block to get in place and set up easy kills for Staiger and others like senior outside hitter Camryn Freiberg at the net.
The emergence of Freiberg, a second team All-Big 12 selection a year ago, as a presence in the middle was exactly what McGuyre hoped for when he subbed her in.
“We knew we wanted to attack the middle and we’re asking our middles to either kill the ball or disrupt the play,” McGuyre said. “Camryn [Freiberg] is incredibly reliable at doing that. She came in, called for the ball and got kills for us. She’s got that bulldog mentality and isn’t going to back down to anybody. I felt like we needed that type of energy.”
Unfortunately for Baylor, it was unable to sustain the energy it exerted in running away with the second set.
Florida State gained control early in the third and fourth sets, forcing Baylor to battle back from behind.
In the third, the Bears managed to trim an eight-point deficit at 20-12 to a three-point deficit at 23-20 behind some timely hitting from Freiberg. The comeback fell short as Seminoles’ senior outside hitter Milica Kubura perfectly flipped a tip shot over the Baylor block to close the set.
In the fourth, Baylor battled back from a five-point deficit to twice cut it to one point at 21-20 but was unable to finish the comeback as an error from Pressley gave the Seminoles match point and a kill from freshman middle blocker Taryn Knuth sealed the deal.
The result wasn’t what Baylor was hoping for, but the Bears did show signs of promise ahead. Pressley, who said she was extremely nervous making her Baylor debut, recorded 10 kills.
“I was beyond nervous,” Pressley said. “But as the game went on I started gaining my confidence. Got a few blocks, got a few kills and you know this is where I need to be. I’m happy I’m here. It’s a great feeling to be here.”
Freshman setter Hannah Lockin also looked right at home in her Baylor debut, recording 36 assists after earning the starting role following the Green and Gold scrimmage. Redshirt sophomore Shelly Fanning tallied 11 kills in her first match back after missing all of 2016 with an injury and Frieberg sparked the offense off the bench, tallying eight kills and hitting at a team-high 46 percent clip and Staiger led all players with 19 kills while adding 11 digs.
Baylor will have to put this loss to rest quickly as the Bears are right back on the court for a 7 p.m. Saturday match with Illinois State, who defeated the University of California-Santa Barbara three sets to zero on Friday.
McGuyre, who used to coach the Redbirds’ associate head coach Eric Plunkett at California Baptist University, knows the challenge Illinois State presents.
“Their associate head is a former player of mine. Set for me, won a couple of National Championships,” McGuyre said. “Their tempo and offense is great. They played some pretty low error volleyball, did some good things that caught Santa Barbara off guard.”
Baylor and Illinois State square off at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Ferrell Center.