By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
Gathered in head coach Ryan McGuyre’s living room and surrounded by friends and family, Baylor volleyball received an early Christmas present. For the first time in program history, Baylor volleyball will host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at the Ferrell Center.
The Bears, who finished their regular season 23-6 and second in the Big 12 conference, earned the No. 12 overall seed in the tournament.
McGuyre, who hosted the watch party that included a bonfire, worship and a time of fellowship, said he was pleased with the seed and the ability to host, but was more excited to share the accomplishment with his team.
“Great seed, good reflection of what we’ve done all year. It’s always been about the girls, excited for them. It’s a beautiful night. This is always my favorite night of the season, just being able to worship and then kind of reflect on what we’ve done all season,” McGuyre said. “And then the excitement on the girls’ faces is priceless, as we’re excited to extend our season. So, good seed, get to play at a great place, the Ferrell Center in Waco, and we’re playing really well there and looking forward to these matches.”
The Bears get the opportunity to play at home, where they were 12-3 on the season, with all three losses to ranked opponents (Florida State, Kansas and Texas).
After Saturday’s four-set loss to Texas, redshirt senior Katie Staiger, who has 1,698 career kills, said she as well as the other seniors were hoping they’d get another shot to play in front of a home crowd.
“It’s really exciting,” Staiger said. “I think it was cool, because at Senior Night it was so exciting, but we had this little inkling like, ‘OK, hopefully that wasn’t the last one. Hopefully we get to play here again.’ The fact that we at least get one more is really exciting.”
2017 marks the second straight year that Baylor has made the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Bears played their first two rounds at UCLA, where they upset San Diego in five sets before being swept by UCLA.
As disappointing as the second-round defeat was for Baylor, Staiger said it has helped them grow into a more mature and complete team heading into the NCAA Tournament now.
“I think it definitely makes us more experienced,” Staiger said. “Last year we were excited about it, but it’s just different when you get to the tournament. Having so many players (eight) who played in that environment really as a team grows our maturity and helps us prepare for this year.”
Baylor’s opening round opponent will be Miami University from the Mid-American Conference. The Redhawks enter the matchup 23-8 overall and winners of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
The other first round matchup at the Ferrell Center will be between Colorado (22-9) and James Madison (23-5).
McGuyre said the Bears will be taking it one match at a time because at this time of the year, everyone is good and everyone is vulnerable.
“When you get to the tournament, everybody is good. They wouldn’t be in it if it wasn’t for a reason. Miami, Ohio plays in a good league, Colorado in the Pac-12. So they’re battle-tested teams,” McGuyre said. “We’ve been the underdog and come back to win, and we stubbed our toe earlier in the year as well. So, we’ve learned all that. Because you’re playing good teams, you’ve got to be at your best. And whoever you face, you have a shot.”
Baylor was one of four Big 12 teams making it to the field of 64. Texas earned the No. 6 overall seed and will host Fairfield on Friday. Iowa State earned the No. 14 seed and will host Princeton on Friday; Kansas will take on Missouri in Wichita, Kan., where the No. 16 seed Wichita State Shockers host.
As Baylor gets back to work in preparation for the weekend, McGuyre said the Bears will need to continue to maintain a joyful attitude and multiply it like they’ve done all season.
“Part of us this whole year has been multiplying the joy. And to be able to do something that’s never happened at Baylor before with our friends, families, everybody’s here,” McGuyre said. “I’m sure we’re going to get after it, and the girls are going to be really focused tomorrow morning. My staff has done a phenomenal job preparing us for each match and getting the girls ready for what we’re doing. So, we’re looking forward to it being a busy week. We’re glad we’re not done, we’re glad it’s a super busy week, and we get to showcase our talents at home and keep finding that joy multiplied.”
No. 12 Baylor (23-6) and Miami, Ohio (23-8) will play for a spot in the second round at 7 p.m. Friday at the Ferrell Center. Colorado and James Madison open tournament play at 4:30 p.m. Friday.